De-Mystifying the Urban Composting Process with Stewart Martin

by Emily Kloeblen

I met Stewart Martin of Providence Gardenworks last summer when he came to prune my trees. He noticed my compost bin and inquired about my experience composting. I admitted that I had taken on composting as a pandemic project and was not very confident in my composting abilities, as evidenced by the flies swarming around my bin. After spending an hour with Stewart for a dedicated composting consultation, I realized that my setup needed an overhaul. I contracted with Stewart to install my animal-proof system last Fall and became a student of his composting process. 

Stewart has become a trusted resource that is fully committed to my composting success, often stopping by on his walks around the neighborhood to check on my compost and to give it an extra mix. Following his guidance has greatly improved my results and sparked my passion for reducing my environmental footprint through composting. If you are interested in composting, I highly recommend a consult with our neighborhood composting guru!

What motivated you to master the art and science of composting?

I have been composting and gardening for years at home. The realization gradually dawned on me that this process was so important for our environment I began to refine it and put a business together. I’ve stuck with it all these years –19 and counting– because it’s so necessary environmentally and so darn satisfying. I feel like I’m making a positive difference in the world. In the twenty years that we’ve lived on the East Side, we haven’t contributed so much as a scrap of food waste to the Providence waste stream. Just our efforts alone –one household– has diverted 14 tons of food waste from the landfill and created 20 cubic yards of compost, for our local gardens. Both our vegetable and perennial gardens are thriving.

Why should anyone consider composting?

Anyone who gives a wit about the environment should be thinking about composting. The impact of methane produced by food waste putrefying in our landfill is staggering. Many people don’t realize that methane is 30x stronger than CO2 as a heat-trapping gas and that the average American family wastes nearly one-third of all the food they buy. Composting is well within the realm of ‘I can do this.’ It’s a simple, yet powerful way we can take action to reduce our environmental impact and produce a useful substance, technically referred to as a ’soil amendment’, for our gardens.

What are the most important considerations when starting to compost in an urban environment like Providence?

Having the right setup and learning how to do it correctly are the most important considerations. I’ve seen many failed composters littering the urban landscape because people get information from the internet that doesn’t thoroughly explain the involved how-tos of the process. They gave up in frustration. This does not need to be the case.

How difficult is it for someone to get started?

It’s relatively easy to get started once you have the right setup and begin to understand the process. It is, however, a process that needs to be followed. Like anything else one may care about, composting requires one’s focus and attention.

What are typical misconceptions about composting?

It smells and attracts animals. It’s hard to do during the winter months. Too much compost will be created to actually use.

These issues are easy to avoid. More brown matter and adequate aeration/mixing alleviates the formation of volatile compounds, which produces unwanted odors. Composting during the winter months is also an easy affair. Where you place the bin is key. As far as making too much compost; everyone has a few shrubs, trees, and neighbors to give any extra compost to. I have yet to meet anyone who could not find a use for their compost.

Three key tips:

  1. Make sure you have enough brown/carbon on hand. The process depends on it. The general ratio is 3 parts brown (leaves) to 1 part green (food scraps).
  2. Mix/aerate regularly. This is an aerobic process. The bacteria depend on this to thrive.
  3. Cut food into pieces which; promotes quicker composting. Doing this also provides more surface area for the bacteria.

Why did you start Providence Gardenworks?

Because I realized my experience composting in an urban environment was of real value to our community, city, and environment, and wanted to share it. Unfortunately, our city and the state government have failed to address this critically important, burgeoning problem. However, the good news is solutions are well within the abilities of all Rhode Island residents and municipalities. 

What types of services do you provide?

We teach, train, and inspire urban dwellers to compost all their food waste on-site and garden in any full sun space they may have. We provide consultative services to existing composters to improve their process and turnkey services installing new composters, which includes on-going training and technical support. We also provide pruning services for ornamental and fruit trees.

If someone wants to consult with you, how should they get in touch?

For more information please go to our website or contact me directly. Thank you so much.

Stewart Martin-

Community gardens take major step

This is the plan designed by the city to renovate the tot lot and include community garden plots along the north edge.

Community gardens in the “tot lot” on Summit Avenue took a giant leap forward Monday night when a governance committee of residents was formed.

Gathering in the Rochambeau Library under the leadership of Greg Gerritt, a prominent local naturalist and gardener, the group of about a dozen met with Wendy Nilsson, the new superintendent of the Department of Public Parks. The formation of a panel of local people to run the community gardens section of the renovated tot lot was a parks department requirement identified by her predecessor, Bob McMahon.

The committee identified several aspects that needed to be addressed, including how plots are to be set up, allocated and run as well as how to raise the funds needed above the amount the city will be able to provide.  Two subcommittees were set up to move forward on these issues.

Another meeting of the overall panel is to be convened in the near future, with the goal of being ready to plant in the spring of 2016. The committee may choose to operate outside of the structure of the Summit Neighborhood Association, which has been instrumental in developing the garden plan.

Beside Gerritt, the group members were Dean Weinberg, SNA president, Kerry Kohring, SNA vice president, Doug Best, Annalisse Daly, Linda Gifford DeGeus, Anneliese Greenier, Douglas Itkin, Brian Lalli, Hien Le, Lucy Ann LePreau, Jessica Porter, Read Porter and Eugene Sorkin.

Parking-lot proposal for North Main Street resurfaces with few modifications

SNA board member Michael McGlynn reads a letter to the Plan Commission outlining objections to the development proposal as UniteHere members hold up signs protesting the parking lot.

The proposal to demolish the Sears building on North Main Street and replace it with a 300-space parking lot is scheduled to come before a city hearing again, but with few of the changes urged by neighborhood residents and the planning panel itself..

The Procaccianti Group, the Rhode Island developers acting for the LA Fitness chain of health clubs, has filed revised plans with the Providence City Plan Commission that show some modifications to the planned building and a few additional plantings, but the size and scope of parking lot remain the same. (The new plans are included below.)

The plan board will resume consideration of the proposal at the regularly scheduled public meeting beginning at 4:45 p.m. May 20 in the Department of Planning and Development’s first floor conference room at 444 Westminster St. A similar hearing is to be held at about the same time in Pawtucket.

At the April 22 public hearing in Providence, members of SNA joined with other concerned neighbors to urge changes in the proposal.

Testifying before the commission, 11 opponents of the application objected to the starkness and lack of environmental safeguards of the plan. SNA board of directors member Michael McGlynn read into the record a letter detailing the organization’s concerns. Some North Main Street merchants, supported by about a dozens members of Local 217 of the UniteHere! union displaying protest signs, also voiced objections.

The commissioners said the city “can do better from this developer” and voted to table the plan until the next meeting after having denied the applicant’s request to combine master and preliminary plan hearings, which would have moved the project along quickly.

The action puts off consideration of the proposal so “we can work together and figure this out,” the board said. The panel also requested an environmental-impact study and told the developer to come back with improvements to its parking-lot design.

At the beginning of the hearing, Andrew Teitz, the lawyer for the applicant, outlined the scope of the proposal, which includes a new building on the Pawtucket side of the city border and the parking lot on the Providence side. The new LA Fitness center structure would face the parking area, not North Main Street, and the only entrance would be from the lot. The building would have large windows looking out onto the street.

The plan calls for the new parking lot to meet just the minimum requirements of the Providence Master Plan, but with few plantings. The lawyer said storm-water runoff management would be better than exists now, but also meet only minimum requirements.

After the developer’s lawyer presented several witnesses who testified to the economic benefits of the proposal, the commission opened the floor to public comments

The first was in a letter from City Councilman Kevin Jackson, who represents the district and who said he supports development, but not in a form that violates the city’s Comprehensive Plan. He wrote that the current proposal doesn’t fit with the urban model of mass transit and needs more landscaping.

The first live witness, who identified himself as Bob Bacon, the owner of a restaurant across from the site, said the plan was the perfect proposal and that the area needed more parking.

Next was SNA Vice President Kerry Kohring, who said the organization supported development but had serious reservations about the proposal and deferred to the presentation of the letter from SNA.

The specific objections in the letter were read by McGlynn, citing problems with streetscape and layout, parking-lot size, landscaping and architecture. The complete text of the letter [PDF].

SNA board member Chris Bull said there was no vision in the plan and that it needed more than a bare minimum of environmental safeguards. Another board member, Grant Dulgarian, testified that the plan does not do justice to a vision of the city on a human scale and that more surface parking is not desirable. He pointed out that a parking deck already exists in the rear of the proposed building.

Several North Main Street business owners also criticized the plan. Peter Kammerer supported LA Fitness but called for a more imaginative proposal that would be interactive with pedestrians. Peter Gallant echoed the need for development along the street but said he had problems with the design and that it should be more pedestrian friendly.

Greg Gerritt, who called himself a friend of the Mosshasuck River, said the storm-water drainage plan was based on the size of the parking lot and was not friendly to the environment.

Jenna Karlin, the staff director of UniteHere! and a city resident, presented pictures of LA Fitness facilities elsewhere in the country that had better building designs for urban locations and did not have large surface parking lots.

Aaron Regunberg, a candidate for state representative from the district, urged the developers to “do it right” and said the current proposal isn’t the best possible design.

Plan Commission Chairwoman Christine West summed up that the board had a duty to the citizens of the area and that much of the current development proposal “works to the detriment of the City of Providence.” The panel then voted the continuance.

Peter Kammerer, of the Sandwich Hut on North Main Street, cites problems with the plan.

Yard waste pickup schedule announced

The City of Providence Department of Public Works has announced that free yard debris collection will begin Monday, April 14, 2014.

  • Residents are encouraged to recycle and compost all yard debris.
  • Yard debris should be left curbside on regular recycling and trash collection days.
  • Sticks and trimmings must be cut to 4 feet or smaller and tied together. Yard debris may not be placed inside plastic bags.
  • Yard debris collection ends on Friday, December 12, 2014.


Survey finds neighborhood support for community gardens in ‘Tot Lot’ park

SNA tot lot

A public opinion survey conducted by SNA in collaboration with the City of Providence Parks Department shows widespread support for community gardens being included in a proposed renovation of the “Tot Lot” public park at the corner of Ninth Street and Summit Avenue.

The renovation plan, developed by landscape architect Megan Gardner of Gardner+Gerrish Landscape Architects of Providence, calls for a major overhaul of the dated park with upgrades that include shade sails, benches, tables, trees, additional swings, a trike path, toddler-friendly play structures, and more. However, some neighbors were concerned about the inclusion of a garden in the park, and so the survey was commissioned to gauge the overall community response to such an addition.


Cooperative effort by city, neighbors plants trees along Hope, North Main

City Forester Douglas Still, behind tree, instructs the volunteers on how to prepare the trees for planting along North Main Street.

There are now dozens of new trees along Hope and North Main streets – thanks to cooperative efforts by the city Department of Parks and Recreation and Summit neighbors.

On April 8, city crews cut eight new tree pits through the sidewalks along Hope Street and put in new soil. Then they added the trees, including four in front of the Rochambeau Library branch. The site selection was done in cooperation with the Hope Street Merchants Association.

Then, on April 13, city crews again delivered trees, but this time along North Main Street to a collection of about 20 neighborhood volunteers, including members of SNA, who dug the holes, planted the trees and spread the mulch. A total of 25 trees were put in, including some on streets intersecting North Main. When the planting was finished, Whole Foods Market provided goody bags for the workers.

The effort was supervised by City Forester Douglas Still and coordinated by George Harvey of Groundwork Providence. It was part of the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program (PNPP), a street-tree planting partnership of the Mary Elizabeth Sharpe Street Tree Endowment, the city and its residents.

Since 1988, the endowment has matched Parks Department funds to provide trees, soil, sidewalk preparation and tree delivery at no cost to Providence residents who apply for and receive a Neighborhood Street Tree Planting Award.

The new trees might not look like much now, but are a legacy of beauty, shade and clean air to future generations.