Smoke rises from a wasteland as the sound of pitchforks hits the earth. Piles of decay are turned, stoked and fed. The crisp winter air chills those gathered as a long stemmed thermometer inserted into the muck reads 140 degrees.
“That’s a good sign,” noted Eddie Shaw.
Thrice weekly, Shaw and other composters travel to Braddock, the once-towering steel city, to help out urban gardening projects back in Pittsburgh. Remnants of the borough’s facade remain, as the Edgar Thomson Steel Works backdrops those gathered. With the still-operating steel mill humming, the visiting composters set to work.
Shaw heads over to the rear of a borrowed pickup truck. Resting atop the bed are multiple 18-gallon plastic tubs. He unloads the receptacles and opens a lid. Inside he finds gourds, avocados and leafy greens. Aryn Gaslowitz, another composter, explains that the unwanted scraps were collected a day earlier from the East End Food Co-op.
Shaw dumps the food waste into long brown piles resting above the earth. He and Gaslowitz are joined by Jeff Newman, owner of Steel City Soils; the three take pitchforks to the piles and continue the composting process.