Marisa DeDominicis cofounded Earth Matter, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the art, science, and application of composting in and around New York City, with Charlie Bayrer and Kendall Morrison in 2008. Prior to that, she spent 18 years with the Trust for Public Land as an environmental educator, low tech garden designer, and site coordinator.
She was an activist in the East Village’s urban homesteading/squatting movement. Her parents owned L & A Blacksmith Shop in Beacon, NY, and her maternal grandmother was the village midwife and butcher in Cugnoli, Italy. She has three lovely children: Kali, Lucca, and Selene.
ON A REWIRE ME MOMENT
When I graduated from college, I thought that I wanted to write, to promote good things like Audubon helping to bring back bird life and to highlight the evils of DDT. I moved to an East Village squat where a drug-related murder had taken place, and worked with a group to establish Outstanding Renewal Enterprises, a community-based rewrite of a NYC block. We started a community garden with a 3-bin source separation station and food scrap recycling. I realized that I wanted to be one of the people doing transformational work, not just write about them.
ON PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT
We want visitors to the Earth Matter Center on Governors Island to feel they can also participate, not just be bystanders. The tools they need may just be words of encouragement , a simple “how to” or “how not to”. Whether someone volunteers for 5 minutes, washing a food scrap bin or walking a goat, or makes a bigger contribution like turning 2 cubic yards of compost or signing up for an educational shift at a big event, we want them to feel special. My challenge is to engage them on whatever level they are at and bring them to the next, optimally through some hands-on activity. That’s a good moment and a spiritual one.
Physical movement and competency in using tools helps people be positive. Contact with chickens, worms, soil, and plants is all very primal. I personally think it’s healing, or, if nothing else, interesting.
When is it best to use a flat shovel instead of spade? Why use a 4-tined pitch fork instead of a 5-tined pitchfork? Harvesting chard’s outer leaves is different then harvesting a whole head of Romaine lettuce. It is always a great “aha” moment for me to understand what different plants require. Many look similar but each is different and have different needs.
ON HOMEMADE SIGNAGE
Perfection in imperfection. The key is to keep things small, realize our capacity and try not to promise what we cannot deliver.I think people crave original and homespun. They can feel when love has gone into the creation. The variety speaks to people, lets them know that they too can be part of moving us all to the next level.
ON TURNING THE PILE
I do love to turn the pile, to observe and learn from the compost, to see how the moisture level is, to give it more or add some browns when there’s too much, to mix all the parts up so there is enough air… it’s sort of like brushing my teeth. Maintaining the devices feels good when I can give the compost some love.
ON TURNING THE PILE, PART II
I get up around 6 am and go for a jog along the East River, to feel my body, the river’s flow and the air temperature. All my thoughts get sifted. Usually I get a solution that I was looking for, a new, positive way to look at a problem or concern. I feel good that I took care of myself, gave myself some quiet time to see the world around me and not be on anyone’s schedule but my own.
ON SAVING THE WORLD WITH THE CONTENTS OF YOUR PURSE
Cringe when you buy the paper coffee cup and again when you put it into the garbage can. Put it in your bag until the next recycling can. Bring your own bottle and fork. Carry your leftover lunch around with you. But be gentle with yourself for falling short. Kindness is a more helpful approach for forwarding the world’s agenda to ensure a better planet than being critical of oneself or others.
At 52 years of age, I finally realize that my mother is my biggest heroine. Her Italian upbringing’s “waste not want not” behaviors were transferred to me – growing food in the backyard garden, being industrious as a way to be healthy and happy. They contributed to my belief that it’s is up to all of us help wherever and however we can.
ON THE LIFE CYCLE
The more I see and learn, the more questions I have.
Get over it! You, too, can help grow our earth’s fertility!
The Green Guerrillas, Earth Matter’s first partner, gave us youth tillers and Americorps supervisors. Rather than say, “This is what we have to give you”, each spring their coordinator would ask, “What do you need?” This allowed us to figure out what we wanted to focus on, and not compare ourselves to other composters’ organizational structure. This approach of honing in, listening to what is needed by whoever walks though our gate, to give support whenever possible our an aspiration.
It’s not bad to expose them to what you have passion for doing, even if the task, like changing water drinkers for chickens, may not seem exciting. Hopefully, they’ll help when they understand that this is what needs to be done. My three kids often said they preferred being in the playground to the garden, but now they are all interacting with nature on a regular basis.
ON LYRICAL CROSS-POLLINATION
When I’m riding my bike to the Governor’s Island ferry, I often think of a David Beck rock lyric from my teenage years: “round and round and round we go, love is a feeling that grows and grows, when will it stop, nobody knows, love is a feeling that grows and grows”. Another lyric that comes to me a lot is the Quaker “tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free, tis a gift to be just where you want to be. And when you find a place that feels just right, you can turn ,turn, turn, ‘til you turn round right…”