If you live in California, you’re going to compost this year

Tldr: Look, just stfu, pay for the green bin if you don’t already have one, and start throwing your food away in the green bin. If you don’t, you’ll be fined and I’ll come find you and mock you for being an asshole.

As of January 1, 2022, California residents are required to separate food waste and throw it away in organic waste green bins, which will be composted or turned into bio-fuel due to a new law signed last year. Restaurants, hospitals and supermarkets are also required to reduce 20% of their food waste by donating un-spoiled food to food banks.

Personally, I think this is long overdue, since 20%-40% of waste sitting in landfills comes from our leftovers, expired food, takeout remains, and produce scraps. But then I started reading online comments and Next Door conversations from folks who are extremely upset and inconvenienced by this, so I wanted to clear up this shit for y’all, and to emphasize that this is GREAT NEWS, it’s still NOT ENOUGH to combat global warming, and we should have done this SOONER (in South Korea, they’ve been separating food waste when they throw trash away for years already). So here’s my FAQ about this food waste law:

Q: Ugh. So now I have to dig through my own trash and pull out gross, rotten food to dump it in ANOTHER bin that I have to pay for?! Why don’t the sanitation guys just sort it FOR ME?
A: So you know that moment when you open your trash can to dump trash in there? Pause at that moment, look at your hands, and if there is anything organic in them, throw them away in separate, biodegradable bag. When the bag is full, put it in the new green bin. Yes, you pay for the bin (unless you’re a tenant and your landlord is already paying for trash), just like you pay for the other bins. No, the sanitation guys aren’t going to come to your house and sort your fucking garbage just like how you already (HOPEFULLY) sort out your recyclables. Every city is going to start doing this differently, so contact your sanitation department (they should have sent you info in the mail by now).

Q: Okay, well, this shit’s going to smell AWFUL in my yard, and how do I even know what’s organic or not? Why are they doing this?
A: Every city waste hauler will have a different rule about this, but most should allow you to bag up your food waste in compostable/biodegradable bags. If it’s edible and non-plastic, then it should go in the green bin. You can also throw away your yard waste in the same bin! Some cities can send you a free compost bin if you ask. It’s basically a small box with a lid, and you can hide it under your sink- or you can use a biodegradable bag to collect and freeze your scraps to throw in the green bin the night before garbage collection.

I’ve been composting non-dairy and non-animal food scraps for a year now, and there hasn’t really been a pest issue because I bury the food waste in a layer of dirt and I also use a lid to cover it up. Also, it smells kinda nice (citrus-y?), but it does look ugly. Black gold, baby!


As for WHY we’re doing this? The food waste you send to landfills sits in non-biodegradable plastic bags under the sun until the food rots and emits methane. So basically, we’ve been creating disgusting, big ass mountains of methane bombs because it’s easier to just throw out gross food and not think about it, and also because no one was forcing us to think about it.

Q: What are they going to do with MY waste? If they’re turning it into biofuel or compost, shouldn’t they be paying me?!
A: You could just compost on your own to create amazing, nutrient dense food for your garden, or if you live in LA, check out LA Compost to find a community compost hub where you can drop off your food scraps in exchange for ready-made compost! As for bio-fuel, not sure what you’d do with that for your car, but there are plans to use the bio-fuel for the waste collection trucks that pick up our trash. Full circle, people!!

Q: This is classic incompetent government. At the end of the day, this is another way for them to make me pay a fee for something I didn’t ask for.
A: Uh, yeah. Sometimes, government has to force people to change their behaviors if it means preventing total collapse of our society. Up to this point, California didn’t have an organic waste law. WOULD YOU COMPOST ON YOUR OWN IF SOMEONE WASN’T MAKE YOU DO IT BY THREATENING A FEE? I didn’t think so. This is the price we pay for the convenience we enjoyed for decades- odds are, if you’re reading this, some of the waste you threw out when you were a kid is still sitting somewhere out there, contributing to global warming.

Q: Well, I hate this and I don’t want to do it because I think it’s gross.
A: By law, you are required to sort your trash, and beginning in 2024, you’re going to be fined for cross-contamination. So here are some non-compost options:
– Reduce food waste by only buying/preparing what you need so you throw away less
– You can gather and freeze food waste and then drop it off at a community garden or compost hub, far, far away from the raccoons and coyotes that apparently live with you
– Use your garbage disposal in the kitchen sink for most smaller, soft food scraps. I use mine for seafood, moldy fruit, and expired dairy products. Btw, this food waste is sent to wastewater treatment plants to be turned into biofuel if you live in LA. So, basically, you can’t avoid being sustainable AND THAT IS THE POINT

There was a lot of shouting in this post. I hope you were shouting, too. And I hope you were shouting because, like me, you are tired of people choosing to ignore climate change and refusing to make lifestyle changes to make sure our children and grandchildren don’t, uh, melt.

Oh and Happy New Year! 🙂

Almanac II

2021 was an insane year to create, publish, and distribute a book about urban farming to a niche audience. But then again, is there a “normal” year to choose to create an almanac in this day and age? It turned out to be an insanely gratifying project that created new friendships, raised hundreds of dollars for two local food justice causes in LA, and was just a lot of fun to put together.

We sold out of the print version, but the FREE digital book is still on this website!

This blog was pretty quiet after the release of the almanac because:

  • I was unexpectedly offered my DREAM JOB and ended up transitioning into my new role just a few weeks ago
  • The almanac team and I were spending most of our time promoting the almanac and figuring out how to ship them to get them into your hands (THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR ALL THE LOVE AND SUPPORT!)
  • I was fortunate to travel to Quebec (again) right before Thanksgiving so I wanted to unplug and just enjoy the trip (maybe I’ll write a separate entry about why I love the province so much; it has to do with their amazing food culture and urban planning, ofc)
  • Honest to God? I was just feeling burned out
  • It’s funny how when you start composting/gardening so you can write about the experience, you spend more time outside rather than inside with your laptop
A poor quality photo with the highest quality team who made the almanac happen!!

So this year, my plan is to actually bring my phone with me to my little wild garden so I can share the growth with you and provide realistic compost updates (it wasn’t as gross as I thought it would be and my garden LOVED the first layer I laid down before the rain storm).

Lastly, you probably noticed this entry is titled “Almanac II”. I haven’t been online, but offline, our team has been going to working group meetings and having internal talks about how we want to continue collaborating and growing the almanac in a way that is sustainable for ourselves, too.

I’m excited to share that, yes, there WILL be an Almanac II this year! It won’t look exactly like the first almanac, and we will be printing way more copies this time because…..(drumroll in my head) we are going to offer the print copies at local farmers markets and independent bookstores! We do plan to update the existing 2021 digital almanac sometime this year, too- we want to add some urban farms and farmers markets we missed the first time, and update the community directly as well.

Thank you to everyone who has been following along with this crazy, hyper-local project. I can’t wait to share more about what Almanac II will be! If you haven’t seen the first almanac yet, you can download a free copy at shegrowscities.com/almanac.

Thanks for making it this far. If you’re interested in more shegrowscities updates, I update @shegrowscities on IG regularly. And thanks for reading this blog about a girl who hates dirt and worms but tries to garden and compost anyway.

field trips #001: SOW

During one of the hottest weekends of the summer, I found myself driving up the 5 freeway to Arleta with my mask and thermos filled with ice water ready to go. I found myself in a residential community just a half mile away from the freeway exit. Nestled in the corner of the neighborhood, SOW Collective’s community garden welcomed me with valley heat, flowering basil, and summer’s last batch of glorious tomatoes.

photo from sowcollective.org

It was my first time finally meeting the badass SOW team in person after I interviewed them several months ago before we knew how long COVID-19 would impact our lives and our work. Despite the sweltering heat (it was a ripe 90 degrees at 10 AM), there was a small army of female volunteers ready to help shovel dirt, weed out intruders, and harvest the last peppers, tomatoes, and squash. I was instantly jealous of this community- how lucky they are to have a garden smack dab in the middle of their neighborhood! How wonderful would it be to spend a Saturday morning walking down the street to pick some fresh fruits and veggies, volunteer some time to learn about gardening, and also get to know my neighbors?

photo from sowcollective.org

Does anyone else suffer from this type of community garden envy? Have you wondered what it would take to have a community garden in your neighborhood? And most importantly- have you considered what the obstacles are to having one? If you’d like to admire/envy SOW Collective’s garden in person, go here for hours and directions, and you may also want to check out what other projects they have going on. It turns out the garden is just the beginning for SOW!

Community Garden Profile: Sustain Our World

Hi there! I recently had the privilege to (virtually) meet the brilliant, all-female team behind Sustain Our World, a community garden program in the Valley that has turned into so much more than just green urban space in the Covid Era. The lovely ladies of SOW took some time to chat with me about their garden, how they got it started, and the importance of sustainable public-private-partnerships. She Grows Cities looks forward to partnering with SOW in future programming, events, and, of course, growing more gardens!

Garden name: Sustain Our World (SOW)

Location: While our garden and Homebase is in San Fernando Valley, our mission takes us all over LA County and beyond!

Current members: Madison Jaschke, soil and water scientist; Haley Feng, biologist and urban planner; Stephanie Gomez, educator and policy advocate; and Christina Jimenez, mechanical engineer and marketing professional.

Social media: find us on IG @sustainoworld; website coming soon!

How did you decide to start a community garden?

Madison: SOW Community Garden began as a program developed to engage and provide for the community, especially as an educational space for children. As soon as the pandemic hit and food security was being compromised, the SOW Team kicked into high drive. We had to get this garden planted now in order to support local families, and we did just that. We put together this garden in just one month, utilizing resources and partnerships within the community and repurposing almost all materials. We now have plants in and actively growing!

Christina: When there was an emergency declared March 11th, I foresaw the garden being a huge resource for folks who would be economically impacted in the coming months. The very next day I rallied the SOW girls and my bestie Cindy Villasenor to start transforming the ~5,500 sq. ft lot into fertile ground.

Haley: [We envisioned] a community garden where we host our youth and community programs and harvest fresh, nutritious produce has always been part of SOW’s business plan.

Stephanie: We knew this space would exist as our headquarters, but we responded with the intention to bring it to life quickly to ensure we could provide our communities with access to food as we viewed this time as vital to feed families in need.

How can cities build safe, inclusive urban farms for all communities?

Madison: Utilize empty space! Look into parkway strips and if you are allowed to plant along your sidewalk. If you see a vacant lot overgrown with weeds, contact your local councilmember to see if they can connect you to the landowners or offer any incentives for food gardens. Many politicians will be in support of your efforts. The SOW Team set up a lease agreement to rent the land to grow food, mutually benefiting both parties as gardens and landscaping raise property value. It’s all about finding an underutilized space and turning it into something productive and sustainable.

Stephanie: Cities have the platform to spread awareness on the importance of building urban farms and integrating them as the norm within neighborhoods. Gardens can be added as a section in parks. Cities can also help provide funding for the maintenance of residential community gardens. This would provide residential home owners to comfortably build garden beds that are 4 by 4 on the empty piece of grass on the sidewalk.

Haley: It all starts with policymaking to create the ideal environment for these programs to thrive. One of the most effective things cities can do is to make land affordable and accessible to urban farmers. Additionally, farmers are always in need of supplies. In terms of providing supplies to community gardens like ours and urban farms, the City of Los Angeles is such a good place to be. We were able to obtain compost and mulch fairly easily through the Bureau of Sanitation. I want to urge cities to consider incorporating farms into general/community plans as well as design guidelines. Our City as it is… is not built for farming. We need to work on transforming it into a place where, if you wish to grow food, farmable land is accessible and compatible with the rest of your community. Sometimes this means being creative with where you designate land as farmable – like parkway strips, as Madi mentioned.

Christina: Cities should consider the cultural and economic background of their neighborhoods that would be benefiting from an urban garden. What do these communities eat and would they know how to prepare produce that is new to them? Also, people care about what they put their time into. Integrating involvement through volunteering or resource donations for a shared space like an urban garden, can shape a well-rounded community of people who care about the purpose.

Who is someone who inspires you to grow more gardens?

Stephanie: I am inspired to grow more gardens by my grandparents. I cannot wait to share the fruit of our labor with them. My grandparents allowed me to form a wonderful relationship with the fruits and vegetables from Mexico. Food has always been our common language as I watched my grandparents care for their nopales, guayabas, mandarinas, frijoles, manzanas, and so much more all in a tiny plot of land no more than 100 feet.

Madison: To echo Stephanie, we are inspired by our elder mentors, especially the women in our lives who have been the conduit for our connection to nature. To the grandmas who have brought us along on their gardening chores: thank you for showing us how you do everything so carefully. I have learned so much from you. The teachers who we’ve had along the way who have strengthened our love and knowledge for the natural world. And each other, really.

Christina: My daughter Camila. I want her to grow up with a different perspective of the food/economic system we’re thrown into. She has immense empathy for people who are treated unfairly or have less, and that makes me want to support a basic need for people.

Haley: I am also highly motivated by food, so just day-dreaming about turning fresh ingredients into gourmet food gets me super motivated 🙂

Where is your favorite urban space?

Christina: Little Tokyo has some awesome spots. The Arts District corridor is my go-to hangout spot to get some fresh air and beers. Venice Boardwalk is a close second.

Madison: Interesting question. In Los Angeles, we have a concrete jungle with trees uprooting sidewalks and birds and lizards passing through. My favorite urban space is whenever I’m walking or longboarding down the sidewalk, and I come across a little slice of heaven – someone’s abundant, biodiverse, thriving front yard. I always stop for a second to smell the flowers and listen to the bugs and birds in the bushes, and to just admire the beauty this person has chosen to create.

Stephanie: My favorite urban space in LA would be Echo Park where you can find bookstores down the strip, a beautiful park with a huge lake, vegan taco trucks and restaurants like Sage Bistro, or if you are looking for some delicious deep dish pizza, Masa is the place to visit. The Sunset strip has it all from bars, to taco trucks, a park, dance clubs, fashion boutiques. Truly a great place to spend the day.

Haley: Palms/Downtown Culver City/Ballona Creek is my favorite and where I feel at home. I hope it stays this way. I am biased towards the Westside though, having lived here for the past 5 years. I do want to second all of above too – Los Angeles is amazingly diverse in urban forms and urban personalities.

What’s ahead for Sustain Our World?

Madison: Big things! The SOW Team is composed of four very passionate and motivated women who want to be that conduit for a healthy, sustainable future.

Stephanie: Where do I begin? Currently, we are planning out our blogs that will share a piece of each of our interests within sustainability. We each share the same value to bring awareness to a more eco-conscious lifestyle, however our individual journeys will all look very different and that is what we’d like to highlight about the road to a reduced-waste lifestyle. Our other programs include environmental equity advocacy work to make sure we aren’t only taking physical action to improve our environment but also being part of the conversations when it comes to implementing long term ordinances that affect our natural resources for years to come. A few other pieces that SOW is working on is a podcast and live IG videos that focus on tips and tricks on How to live a more waste-free alternative lifestyle.

Haley: For the time being we are focusing on laying down a strong foundation for SOW.

With the safer at home order, we have been taking turns to take care of the garden while working on developing our online presence. There have been many long, late night Zoom calls, but our passion keeps us going. We want to see our garden thrive, with an abundance of produce, herbs, teas, programs, and events; we will also be launching a zero-waste service program targeting farmers markets and eventually, we hope to tackle bigger events such as music festivals and concerts. In addition to events, we want to work with policymakers to bring zero-waste or zero-plastic to restaurants and businesses.

Christina: We are working on so many things other than the garden at the moment it’s crazy. Keep your eyes peeled for Co-founder Series blog, handmade products from our garden, SOW advocacy chapters at universities, and the launch of other sustainable programs we’ve been holding out on because of the pandemic.

Any individuals/vlogs/projects you would like to plug?

Madison: @cerowastecindy does amazing garden consultations! She helped us start the garden off with a no-till, sustainable method called lasagna layering. I highly recommend following her inspiring cero waste journey. Also, @generationpermaculture and @girl.plants.world, our global friends who share this passion for sustainability and who are spreading and sharing stories of inspiration. Thank you to Michael for the salvaged soil and Daniel for the composted cow manure. Also, @ask_mr_list  is a great resource for gardening wisdom, and we are so grateful for the garden beds!

If you want to support the garden, here is our GoFundMe:

Christina: My sustainable lifestyle brand. Working on a couple of quality pieces of clothing right now. Part of the proceeds will be going to SOW.

Cindy Villasenor has started her garden consulting business to help you start your own urban garden. People with small spaces (apartments/porch only) are encouraged to start. (@cerowastecindy, cerowastecindy@gmail.com)

Stephanie: Currently, I am planning a SOW Spring Closet (Virtual Yard Sale/Thrift Shop Fundraiser- Using Platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Poshmark to sell clothing it will be a Bid Style-Highest Bid Will Take the item)  All proceeds will be going to the programs and events that will take place at the Garden.  I am re-starting a Youtube channel as I’d like to share my journey towards sustainability. Stay tuned for that I used to only post covers of songs now I feel comfortable sharing the challenges of changing my consumer habits.

Haley: As an urban planner concentrating on Economic Development, I am always keeping an eye out for business opportunities in communities. While nothing is concrete yet, I hope to create a line of products made out of recycled materials, starting with plastics. Stay tuned!

We must tend to our garden….

…or so the Voltaire quote goes. Kind of. I’m sure something may have been lost in translation. While this quote refers to tending to one’s “garden” in a philosophical sense in response to all the hardship and suffering that exists in the world, I don’t think the philosophy perfectly fits our world’s current pandemic. I am an optimist, and believe that the tide will eventually turn back in humanity’s favor, but I disagree with our society’s hustle culture being applied to all of us stuck at home.

There is an immense pressure and expectation applied on us all to come out of this fitter, smarter, better, healthier, etc. This moment should be considered a chance to maximize productivity, master new skills- you have no excuse not to! I don’t have any problem with those who want to do just that, but I want to acknowledge the vast majority of people who are currently in situations where they cannot boast of new achievements because, well, life is kind of crazy right now.

If you wake up early to take a walk, that is great! If you sleep in and treat yourself to pancakes, that’s great too. I don’t want people to think my post is pointing fingers at anyone who is NOT growing their own produce. I recognize that I am privileged enough to have a backyard large enough to start one, and I have the means to buy good wood and tools to help me get started. If you find joy and relaxation from gardening and all things urban farming like I do, then I look forward to seeing YOUR gardens, too! If not, I hope you fill your day with things that make you happy and you find meaningful- I think that’s what Voltaire ultimately meant, anyway.

So, the garden. It is a teeny tiny bed I started with green onion, tomatoes, and lettuce. On the side, I decided to plant some lavender, thyme, and oregano in hopes of warding off mosquitos. We moved my baby aloe vera to the back of the garden bed just ‘cuz (and she’s now about to bloom! More pics of this next time).

So far, not much luck on the thyme and oregano. The green onions are coming along nicely, although the heat waves we’ve been having in LA are concerning. Tomatoes tend to do well in this spot so we’re leaving them alone for the most part. The lettuce is getting attacked by pests- any tips on preventing this?

Also tried soaking ginger and garlic and getting them started in pots- no luck on this end either. I think I did not soak them long enough. Will try again in a few weeks. A neighbor was giving away rosemary so I am trying to grow a few sprigs in a pot as well- another scent that mosquitos hate! We’ve had an awful case of ankle-biters that last few summers.

Finally, Mr. Cheese, my beloved monstera, has been replanted after outgrowing his first home. I tried to propagate him as well- will share status update next time.
If you have a garden or urban farm and you want to share yours, feel free to comment or shoot me an email!

1 year old monstera.