Propagation Clippings: Michael Martinez On Transforming Waste Relations

Published on 2019-05-29

Propagation Clippings are inside listens for our subscribers.

Please enjoy this week's clip with Michael Martinez!

A burgeoning national food movement asks us to think critically about where our food comes from, and yet rarely do we consider where our food actually ends up. Shocking statistics on food waste reveal a broken food system that creates exorbitant waste at every step of the supply chain from our agricultural fields and grocery store dumpsters to our dinner plates: the The Guardian, for example, has reported that roughly 50 percent of all produce in the United States is thrown away — 60 million tons (or $160 billion) worth of produce annually, an amount constituting “one third of all foodstuffs.” Mainstream waste management systems are failing us, and our top soil, waters, farmers, ecosystems, and communities are paying the price. Join us this week as we take a dive into the compost pile with Founder and Executive Director of L.A. Compost, Michael Martinez, and explore the transformative power, unexpected collaborations, and rich abundance to be found in the decomposition of food.

“It’s not our efforts that [are] creating the beautiful rich compost, it’s the efforts of the unseen, it’s the efforts of the things with no voices…we don’t always need the recognition and praise, sometimes it is okay to be behind the scenes…”


A certified Master Gardener and former elementary school teacher, Michael has over 8 years of experience building gardens and compost systems throughout the County of Los Angeles as well as other parts of the country. Michael has grown L.A. Compost from a group of volunteers collecting organics with bikes (30,000 pounds of food scraps in the first few months!) to a decentralized network of community compost hubs that span across the most populated county in the country. Mimicking the soil structure and the underground interconnected web of life, L.A. Compost seeks to bring city residents, municipalities, state assemblies, nonprofits, food recovery agencies, and existing community organizations together in true partnership to reconnect both with our food as well as our fellow neighbors.

In this conversation, Michael and Ayana discuss our widespread culture of disposability, the ecological services and benefits of healthy soil, the beauty of decay and decomposition, the necessity of circular economies, the importance of individual responsibility and community action, and the lessons that compost teaches us about humanity, value, and reverence for what we cannot see. Retelling the story of food from seed to table and back to the earth, Michael ultimately leaves our For The Wild community with a simple and profound message: we need each other.

Compost on!

♫  Music by  Mountainhood and Carter Lou and One For The Road

Tune in to the full episode here:

Action Points From L.A. Compost & Episode 121:

+ Though we must recognize that our national food waste crisis is propelled by larger systems and corporate interests, bringing awareness to your own food and waste relations can be an empowering place to start sowing seeds of change. What does your individual food web look like from production to disposal? Are there compost or organic diversion services offered in your community through city or municipal programs, farmers markets, or community hubs?

+ There is a lot of widespread misinformation and fear swirling around the liability of donating surplus food or goods that have passed their expiration date. In a national survey conducted by America’s Second Harvest, more than 80% of the companies surveyed responded that the threat of liability for food related injuries was the greatest deterrent for donating excess food. However, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act or “Good Samaritan Act” provides a wide standard of liability protection for both food donors and the nonprofits accepting donations. If you work at a restaurant, coffee shop, bar, or any business that prepares or serves food, consider partnering with a local food rescue or recovery organization

Check out the Public Health Law Center’s guide for a comprehensive guide on the legality of food donation:

+ If you’re interested in getting more involved in food rescue, Boulder Food Rescue has a helpful list of free online resources, including this step-by-step guide on how to create a food rescue program in your own community:

+ From vermiculture to backyard bins, there are so many ways to create a compost system that works for you!

As Michael shares with us in this episode, “The learning is in the doing!”

All you will need is a source of:

(1) carbon or dry “brown” materials (such as leaves, straw, hay, sawdust, woody chips or twigs, newspaper, corn stalks, pine needles, etc.)


(2) nitrogen or “green” organics (food and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, soil, seaweed, garden waste, coffee grounds, etc.).

Check out L.A. Compost’s guide,, Institute for Local Self-Reliance or for tips and tricks to get started!