When Todd from the Richmond Review called me to do a story about bokashi I suggested we meet where the bokashi is being used by one of my customers in Richmond.
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Bokashi composting may be the next big “growth” industry in the world of green—and Richmond elementary schools are leading the charge.
Unlike traditional composting in which plant materials are stored in a bin and turned from time to time while the organic matter breaks down into soil over several months, Bokashi composting is a much faster process. All food waste—including meat, bones, dairy, bread and just about anything edible—is put into a bucket and “pickled” with a sprinkle of special micro-organisms called Bokashi.
Invented in Japan in the 1980s, the secret of Bokashi—which, roughly translated, means “fermented organic matter”—is in the “pickling” action of its micro-organisms.
When spread over food waste at eight- to 10-centimetre deep intervals in an airtight container, these organisms ferment the contents rather than simply allowing them to rot as in a traditional compost bin.
The result is no foul smell, no insects and no lengthy decomposition time—even with non-organic foods like meats and cheese.
According to Vancouver’s self-professed “Bokashi Man” Al Pasternak, that makes Bokashi composting perfect for condo-dwellers or those with limited to no yard space who, nonetheless, want to reduce their environmental footprint by composting in their homes.
Perfect too, it seems, for Richmond elementary schools, with Quilchena, Ferris, Grauer and Maple Lane elementaries all boasting in-classroom Bokashi programs this year.
Once filled, the Bokashi container does need to be dumped into a garden or standard compost bin for the final stage of its transition into soil. But the Bokashi advantage is that once transferred from the bucket, the Bokashi waste is typically ready to be planted in within about a month, starting a new growth-cycle much quicker than standard yard composting.
“When it comes out of the bucket, the food looks exactly the same as when it went in but its chemical structure has changed completely because it’s now a pickled leftover onion or whatever it is. It’s infused with the microbes that do the pickling and it’s more wet but you’ve got no smell and it doesn’t attract fruit flies,” Pasternak said.
“Bones won’t necessarily break down in the bin but they won’t smell and won’t attract critters once they go into the compost, and after they come out of the Bokashi they’re much more pliable and, if you did have a lot, could be easily broken up in the garden with a shovel blade,” he added.
According to Quilchena principal Ric Pearce, his school’s student-run Bokashi program fills as many as four 20-litre buckets of food waste each month.
“We have small buckets in each classroom and then in one of our storage rooms we have one of the larger buckets,” Pearce said. “We have a group of kids that go around and gather it up every lunch and put it into the big bucket and put the Bokashi on it and then deliver the small buckets back.”
Once the school’s four rotating large buckets are filled, they deliver them to the Terra Nova community gardens where some Quilchena classes go every two weeks to plant, tend and harvest their crop of strawberries, peas, potatoes and sunflowers, Pearce said.
Last year, Quilchena’s Bokashi program delivered 43 28-pound buckets of food waste to Terra Nova, according to Pearce. That’s approximately 1,204 pounds, or over a half-tonne, of food waste diverted from area landfills and turned into nutrient-rich soil and a learning opportunity for Richmond schoolchildren.
Pasternak, who may [be] the only homegrown cultivator of Bokashi in Metro Vancouver, supplies Quilchena with its Bokashi blend and delivered a refill of the micro-organisms on Tuesday.
“I’ve been supplying Quilchena with their Bokashi for the past year and there may be another supplier in Richmond because Bokashi is very popular in the school system there, but I believe the other supplier’s source comes from back east,” he said. “But it’s very easy to make yourself and then put onto any dry medium from coffee grounds to wheat bran to pencil shavings even.”
And pencil shavings are a resource that one young, enterprising Grade 6 student assured Pasternak that Quilchena Elementary has an endless, and potentially lucrative, surplus of.