On the Ground
LA Compost’s Michael Martinez
Michael Martinez is a certified master gardener, a former elementary school teacher and the founder and executive director of L.A. Compost. The organization began in 2013 as a collection of volunteers collecting organics on bikes from restaurants, homes and schools. It now creates community compost hubs throughout Los Angeles county, in places such as churches, schools, gardens and workplaces. The hubs compost organics locally while creating shared spaces for people to connect with each other and the natural world.
“Wholeness is really only achieved when broken and imperfect pieces come and work together.”
How do you understand or experience your relationship to the Earth as sacred, and is there a particular place or experience that opened this understanding?
Whenever I’m in the presence of the natural world and the Earth there’s this beautiful feeling of life exchange — somewhat of an inhale-exhale experience where you can breathe, but also exhale and inhale in the sense that you can kind of be still, be present, be mindful of the space and area where you’re at, and also receive a lot of life and the natural beauty from the systems that are around you to the point that you feel full. Not full from a meal you just ate, but full from the life that you received from the space that you were part of.
For me what’s opened up this understanding is the ability to slow down as needed and experience life. The story of life is not always just new growth but might incorporate decay and death and hurt and pain and brokenness. It also allows for healing and new growth and renewal and partnership and relationships working together. Wholeness is really only achieved when broken and imperfect pieces come and work together. Being in a space that isn’t perfect allows for creative solutions.
How does your work recognize, renew, or respond to the sacred in nature?
By creating the space for connections to one another and to the soil to be made, our work allows for strong relationships to be built. Our work is decentralized, in the sense that we create small hubs throughout the city. These hubs are in spaces where people are naturally doing life, such as schools, churches, community gardens, art centers, and parks. We’re able to build physical infrastructure, create the space for educational opportunities, and allow people to engage both with their neighbor and the soil and the story of food in a really deep way.
The majority of our spaces where we work are outdoors, where people can understand the connections between soil and water. They understand the importance of compost. They also understand that compost is both an act and a finished product. The very act is very symbolic: taking broken and unwanted materials and bringing those together to create something that is whole and life-giving and very complex.
Why is this sacred relationship important for the world today?
We are very disconnected to not only nature and the outdoor world, but also to each other as human beings. We are more focused on a glass screen and “likes” we receive than the natural colors and beauty around us. Here in LA we’re in the most populous county in the country — there’s over 10 million people in our county — yet there’s a lot of isolation and depression and loneliness everywhere. We all experience it in some degree.
For our work, it’s how do we allow for people to know that their journeys are not journeys that they have to take alone? How do we allow for people to know and see nature as something to learn from? How do we allow them to see the way in which a tree goes dormant and drops its leaves and builds the soil around its root system in a way in which they can learn from their own stories?
The sacred relationship allows people to see how they are a part of something much bigger than themselves, it allows them to not feel hopeless, and also to feel as if they are part of a human network that collectively is having an incredible impact. Although their individual daily choices might not seem as significant, when they feel connected to this greater movement, this greater network of humans altering their habits, routines and daily culture has the potential to shift the systems that are in place.
On the Ground is a series highlighting people who are living out the values of spiritual ecology in their life and work.