Pedal-Powered Compost Service Transforms Community
Andy Brooks has figured out a way to make composting accessible to the city dweller. The plan is simple: Distribute food-collection buckets to subscribers' homes; pick up the buckets on a weekly or monthly basis; bring the food scraps to a central location for composting; then in 10 to 15 weeks, return a share of nutrient-rich soil to his subscribers. His company, Bootstrap Compost — "Boston's Only Bike Powered, Residential Compost Pickup Service" — was founded in early 2011. A then-unemployed Brooks was inspired by Vermont's Earthgirl Composting, a similar service he encountered while visiting family in Vermont.
After returning home to Boston's socially and ethnically diverse Jamaica Plain (JP) neighborhood, Brooks printed fliers advertising a composting pick-up service and posted them around JP and nearby neighborhoods. Within the first week, Bootstrap had customers. The near-instant success of his business is in large part due to its ease-of-use, which creates an opportunity for urbanites to compost. "A lot of my people live in the city. In brownstones and large apartment buildings, they have no space to compost, but they're interested in the idea of composting, and I give them a way to do that."
The name "Bootstrap Compost" highlights the entrepreneur's philosophy on his business and his community: "It goes back to the cliché of 'lifting yourself up by the bootstraps.' By lifting myself up, I'm helping the community lift itself up as well." Bootstrap Compost's inclusion in a neighborhood where much of the aesthetic involves concrete and litter represents a part of a larger "sea change" taking place in the area.
Recently, an empty abandoned lot on Boylston Street in Jamaica Plain was converted into a community garden, with soil donated by Bootstrap, a bird bath created and donated by a nearby artisan welding company, and seeds planted and tilled by local schoolchildren. Bootstrap has also donated soil to community parks and helped maintain a garden in nearby Egleston Square, an area that had fallen into disrepair, with a reputation of violence and drugs. In a largely low-income community, "green" opportunities are starting to become more available to residents for whom environmental causes and the opportunity to participate are in large part, a luxury. "I'm in accord with other folks in the community who have managed to create interest in food issues and sustainability issues."
Bootstrap Compost is now operating throughout neighborhoods in Boston and outlying suburbs, and the company has expanded from a one-man bicycle operation to two "collectors" on bicycles, a pickup truck, and a small administrative staff. Plans are in the works to create collection outposts throughout Boston and expand into other communities in the Northeast, with a focus on Providence, Portland, and cities in New Hampshire.
"I will say that one thing is super rewarding," he beams. "What's so awesome about Bootstrap is we turn people's compost into soil. We donate a share, and the rest goes to the people. They see their banana peels and coffee grounds coming back to them in the form of this very nutrient-rich compost. We're providing a link in that system for people to get tapped in."
--Katie Warner / photos courtesy of Jonathan McCurdy and Andy Brooks