Upcoming summit could spark composting revolution

Sweetie Pie activist urges us to keep our ‘black gold’ in our communities

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges

The unlikely titled State of Garbage Compost Summit, though it sounds less than inviting, may prove a hallmark for environmentalists, principally because social and political heavy hitters are weighing in to give the initiative a high profile.

Keith Ellison, U.S. Congressman and longtime North Minneapolis luminary, well known as an advocate for the environment, will be on hand. As will Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, who during this year’s State of the City address announced the start of strategies to move Minneapolis toward zero-waste with the intent of eliminating the harmful effects burning garbage has on the environment.

In 2013, Hodges publically stated, “Burning garbage is severely hurting the environment and the residents of Minneapolis. Seventy percent of the waste burned in Hennepin County could and should be recycled. Burning garbage is an inefficient way of producing energy, and produces minimal economic benefit compared with recycling.”

She also said, “It is a matter of social justice, [as] the ill effects…fall disproportionately on low-income neighborhoods and people of color.”

Michael Chaney
Michael Chaney

A central figure at the summit is Michael Chaney, maverick grassroots firebrand who founded and directs Project Sweetie Pie (PSP). In collaboration with University of Minnesota Extension, Compostadores, and summit funder Hennepin County Green Partners Program, PSP presents the event via its Green with Envy program.

The Green with Envy Community Garden Composting Project fosters community leadership in North Minneapolis, collaborating with the network of community gardens there to focus on Minneapolis yard and kitchen waste composting. Chaney, pausing between phone calls while parked in his PSP vehicle, stated that it is important to get young people involved.

“We want to get grants to train them in alternative technologies in the green industry,” Chaney said. He emphasized that an imperative, along with bringing in the youth of communities, is to seize an opportunity to enhance the well-being of and empower communities themselves, “instead of us shipping out all our wealth from North Minneapolis to the suburbs.”

He’s wholly on board with composting, but not with a process that ships it out to Burnsville and then “sells it to Home Depot and Menards and Northside Gardeners, where we will then go buy it from them. That’s absurd. You can’t truthfully say this is an improvement.”

His idea is to keep the resource in the community’s own backyard to begin with. At the same time creating jobs.

“You can train and hire people who don’t have the expertise and some of whom otherwise can’t get jobs, like ex-offenders. You can give them the opportunity to make a living by collecting compost in their neighborhoods and creating garden sites.

“So, it’s a win for the gardeners who don’t have to spend their money to buy compost. It’s a win for the community and the taxpayers who don’t have to pay additional taxes to export it. And it’s a win for residents in the community [where people] are employed through compost collection.”

Viewed from that perspective, the flyer for the State of the Garbage Compost Summit states, “Championed by green thumb gardeners and urban farmers alike, we have come to realize compost is not garbage but rather black gold. Discarded organic wastes are not trash but instead the pick of the litter. Compost restores and replenishes the soil, and healthy soil grows healthy food.”

The agenda for the event includes words from Congressman Ellison and Mayor Hodges with a welcome by Steve Belton of the Minneapolis Urban League and half-hour seminars titled “Reduce – Reuse – Recycle: Protects Air, Land and Water…and People” and “Compost Captains: Developing Community Leadership in North Minneapolis.”

In a previous interview with the MSR, Chaney said of Project Sweetie Pie, launched in 2010, “[It is] trying to turn the tide of public opinion that gardening is more than just a cute pastime. It makes the argument that we are paving the way for economic development, jobs training, career development. “[We can] lay the foundation for retooling our communities.”

This newest initiative does a great deal toward furthering that idea, the purpose being to heighten community awareness of gardening and recycling with representatives of civic and governmental organizations available to offer resources and answer questions on curbside recycling, community gardening, and backyard composting.

The day, a free event, is not all show-and-tell question, answer and advocacy for the environment. There’s a fun aspect as well with refreshments, prizes and giveaways and an entertainment component hosted by KMOJ’s Chaz Millionaire.


The State of the Garbage Compost Summit takes place on Tuesday, August 18 from 5:30-8:30 pm at the Minneapolis Urban League, 2100 Plymouth Ave. North in Minneapolis. Doors open at 5:30 for registration.

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.