In light of some of the recent discussions around the museum regarding waste processing, today I took it upon myself to invite my friend Paul, aka “Dr Worm” to consult.
What I’ve noticed with the organisation is that there seems a strong willingness to make small and manageable changes; it’s just that there’s not a huge amount of time sloshing around, to investigate the options and how to carry them out.
Paul and I have recently completed a permaculture design course together. One of the outcomes is that we have an instant network of very clever colleagues to call upon for such consultations.
I figured that Paul might be able to do a bit of an ad-hoc site survey to explore the possibilities for diverting organic matter from landfill, with an eye to submitting a rough proposal to the MCA – making it all a bit easier for the organisation to consider.
As Paul was checking his bag in at the front desk, I introduced him to “B” and Kate, two of the cheery visitor services officers. Paul showed them a flyer he’d printed for a large scale Bokashi bucket which he thought might be appropriate for the MCA. “B” in particular was interested, picking his brains on how Bokashi works. (Basically, its an anaerobic composting system which pickles or ferments your food scraps. These pickled scraps are then buried in the garden where they rapidly break down to form rich composty soil.)
I took Paul upstairs to the staff kitchen to show him the newish recycling bins, and to suss out the space for its potential for hosting organic waste systems. His appraisal was that our kitchen is quite small. There might be room for one of the smaller bokashi buckets on the bench, but not really for a decent worm farm – perhaps a “worm cafe” (but even that might be tricky to squeeze in).
He did like the look of the board-room though, with its million dollar views overlooking Circular Quay. I think it’d be brilliant. But I’m not sure what luck we’d have sneaking a compost system into the board room.
Paul wondered whether there might be another space – a courtyard, a balcony, a laundry, where something could be set up so that it would be easy to access and yet not in the way. Can anyone think of one?
Continuing our explorations, I took Paul in to meet Glenn, one of the MCA curators. Glenn was a bit pessimistic. One of the problems is that with a Bokashi system, you need to dig into some dirt to bury the pickled food scraps. The MCA is bordered by grass and gardens on the east and south sides, but these are under the jurisdiction of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA). Permission would have to be obtained to dig a hole and bury the waste there. (Those who are familiar with the process of negotiating with SHFA might understand how tricky this could be.)
Undaunted, Paul’s eyes glazed over as he imagined a food forest, perhaps akin to the one the Artist as Family has installed in the yard of St Michael’s in Surry Hills, filling the grassing knoll in the front of the museum. He pictured himself spading bokashi into the sandy loam, an old bathtub full of worms nearby writhing in pleasure at a new bucket of lunchscraps freshly delivered. The result of which would be a carbon-and-nitrogen enriched soil, abundantly producing and attracting visitors for miles around. Now that would be something.
Interrupting this reverie, Euan (the Chief Operating Officer) strode past; Glenn lassooed him in. We introduced Paul, and Euan quickly agreed that, yes, something would definitely be a good idea. He had to run – but as he strode off again he reminded us that there were also on-site cafes and in-house Functions to consider, as other potential sources of organic nutrient.
Before he left, Glenn I and took Paul for a lap of the building’s exterior. Personally, I wanted to see if we could find some small corner of soil we could use as our bokashi-burial zone. We did, sort of. Here, on the George Street side of the building, next to the souvenir store, is a rather neglected patch with dying plants and cigarette butts aplenty:
Could that be the beginnings of an MCA bokashi-boosted mini-garden?
While we stood there thinking (and marvelling at the sheer laziness of wanton cigarette-butt discarders), we also noticed the empty shopfront. This used to be the David Campese coffee shop, which has for some reason recently closed down. It’s now for lease, but I wonder how long it’ll take to find a new tenant. The thought of this unused space sent all three of us into paroxysms of imagination.
What if the space were temporarily set up as an inspiring, sexily-DIY, Zone of Composting Glory? Not only would this be an excellent educational opportunity for MCA staff (and of course, we could get Dr Worm in again to run empowering workshops), but it would also be a clear and visible demonstration to the outside world that a large organisation can integrate on-site waste management into its daily life. If adopted, our ingenius plan would show that a Museum of Contemporary Art could be really avant-garde – beyond the frame of the white cube!
Foaming with excitement, we all three went our separate ways, daydreaming the microbial breakdown of banana skins. As Paul says, “Waste aint rubbish – it’s Food“.