Just a Thought: April 12, 2017
Millfair is worth dirtying your hands.
The urge to "get the dirt on someone" fuels tabloids and websites, while focusing on actual soil seems less titillating. But it shouldn't.
Wendell Berry calls soil "the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. … Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life."
Our soil absorbs everything we do, everything we are, everything we'll ever create or buy or throw out or dream up or be.
The awful reality that fact entails is a lot to swallow – and swallow it, we do, since everything we eat depends on soil, too. But there are steps we can take to return our land to better health. And for Erie County residents, the Millfair Compost and Recycling Center, located on Millfair Road at the border of Millcreek and Fairview townships, is a good place to start.
The center, a joint effort of Millcreek and Fairview townships, offers naturally beautiful fine and coarse bark mulches, leaf compost, and other landscape amendments at prices that help make healthier soil and lovelier landscapes accessible.
Though only Millcreek, Fairview, and some other West County residents or landscapers may discard yard waste there, anyone can purchase their products. If you have a pickup or a trailer, you can buy large quantities at bargain prices. But anybody with a garbage can or bucket can bring home enough for smaller projects – often for around the cost of a cup of coffee – and get a good shoveling workout, to boot.
I learned about the center a few years back at one of Environment Erie's composting workshops. I was in the midst of developing what can now only be described as an obsession with growing things – especially food. Of course, the soil's the thing, regardless of what you're growing. And though compost truly is the "black gold" it's often called, it's hard for a small household to make enough for bigger projects.
Meanwhile, bags of compost or mulch – even on sale – can make extensive gardening prohibitive for those of us who are "beg, steal, or borrow" gardeners, with the bulk of our plants coming from divisions of others' perennials, garden center clearance shelves, or garage sale tables.
Last summer, I came into a cache of gorgeous ornamental grasses that had been divided from giant mature plants. That I had nowhere to plant them didn't stop me from filling our poor car's trunk. (Logic has never been my strong suit when faced with free flora.)
I laid down cardboard boxes to stifle underlying grass in what's left of our lawn, then headed to Millfair with a shovel and a couple of garbage cans sticking out of the trunk. Shortly thereafter, I'd built up a bed of soil and leaf compost for virtually no money. I added composted manure I'd acquired from Liz and George Farms on Route 99 (also shoveled into garbage cans in the trunk – need a ride, anyone?) and the grasses are thriving today.
We've installed several raised beds in the last few years, and Millfair's leaf compost has been a key component in all of them, just as it was when our neighbor started a community garden in her big side yard down the street. Leaf compost isn't as nutrient-packed as kitchen compost or manure, but it does improve soil composition and reduce the need for expensive fertilizers with the potential to contribute to Lake Erie's harmful algal blooms.
And topping permanent beds with a thick layer of Millfair's fine bark mulch has practically eliminated the need to weed – or to ever apply questionable synthetic herbicides like the glyphosate in Roundup, prohibited in some countries.
Plus, no plastic bags or containers to discard.
But the best part? Both crews who operate Millfair – one from Millcreek and one from Fairview – are a joy to work with, wonderfully helpful and with great senses of humor. When I visit on windier days, I swallow a lot of mulch because I'm laughing so hard. But someone's gotta do the dirty work.
Katie Chriest can be contacted at katie@ErieReader.com.