By Pete Ash, Master Composter
Pete supervises as greens are added to a compost pile
It all happened by mistake. Or did it? At this point I don’t really know. Many would say it was no accident, but in a way, it was. It all started a year ago when I decided to come to India to study Biodynamic Agriculture.
I had just completed a couple of intensive trainings in Biodynamics at ISKON Farms just outside Mysore in South India when I fell off a motorcycle and broke my shoulder. I had planned on staying in India for another two months to practice what I had just learned when the accident happened. There was nothing left to do but come home early.
1 pile is made every day at the ashram.
I couldn’t get a flight home for another three weeks so I decided to go over to the coast and lay low. The day before leaving Mysore, I met a young Westerner at breakfast that had just arrived from Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, a small fishing village amidst the coconut groves along the Kerala coast. I didn’t know anything about Amma, “the hugging saint,” nor did my breakfast companion explain. That night I took the bus, arrived the following morning and checked into the ashram. As part of one’s stay at the ashram, one is expected to do a couple hours of “seva,” or service. I was told that because of my shoulder, I wasn’t expected to do anything, but when I saw the ashram’s Eco Department and gardens I thought I could at least pull a few weeds and do some watering.
Pete adds water to a compost pile.
When it got out that I was an experienced farmer and gardener, taught composting and organic gardening workshops—and was indeed a Master Composter—well, I got hooked in. Amma, who travels the world giving hugs and spreading her message of love, also preaches the need for making a “Greener” world (see www.amritapuri.org/). In no time, I was teaching composting workshops and giving lectures in organic farming and gardening, both at the ashram and also in Amma’s colleges attached to the ashram. By the time I returned to California in late January of this year I had helped Amma’s Engineering College start an organic garden (see http://www.amrita.edu/news2009/events-news/e-april/earth-day-amritapuri-organic-garden.php). The students had formed a “Green Friends” club following our composting workshop. By the end of June, I had lectured and composted with Amma’s Ayurveda College in Amritapuri, where the students also formed a Green Friends club and started their own organic garden. I have also been to Amma’s ashram in Mumbai where I lectured and composted with the Ayudh International group there (see http://www.ayudh.eu/2009/mumbai-organic-farming-workshop/).
The interior temperature of the piles are checked with sticks.
But my real “seva” has been the composting project here at the ashram in Amritapuri. By the end of my first trip in January of this year, I discovered that the ashram had been dumping the food waste (about 750 to 1000 kilos per day) into the backwaters. It was hard to believe. As it turned out, there had been several attempts in the past to compost the food waste but each time it had failed, creating terrible smells and attracting rats and crows, and upsetting the neighbors to no end. I couldn’t bear the thought of all that waste being thrown into the backwaters. I decided then that I would return and start a composting program.
I made my second trip to India in the last week of April. By the first week of May, we began composting, making a new pile each day. Today is August 25th and this is my third time to the ashram. We just finished making compost pile #106. It has been a lot of hard work, we’ve faced many challenges, but it has been very rewarding and so much fun.
Pete with friends at the ashram.
Pete Ash has been a Master Composter since 2007 but has been composting for many years. He is highly involved with the Master Composter program; instructing workshops, up keeping demonstration sites, instructing the Master Composter Course, and answering Rotline questions. Pete will be instructing the Master Composter Course this fall in Encinitas. To learn more about the Master Composter course, please visit the Solana Center Website. If you would like to ask Pete any questions about his work and experiences in India, please email Carlie (firstname.lastname@example.org) and she will forward your question onto Pete.
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