My dream since grad school has been to start my own compost making enterprise. There are easier ways to do this, such as living in a rural area and working for the compost industry. However I am notorious for taking the difficult route, even with one of the most difficult industries to work in. I decided I wanted to live in the Los Angeles area, and as much as I wanted to pursue an enterprise, environmental justice was a much greater issue I could not ignore. In my pursuit of enterprise, I found justice work. Community composting is a much smaller scale pursuit, and most would scoff at its ability to generate any kind of livelihood for someone. But it is meant to be a decentralized network of small sites. This is obviously a difficult pursuit once again, as there are multitudes more people to convince that this is a good idea to try.
There are many barriers to community composting, such as policy limitations, hauling limitations, as well as stubborn perceptions of compost as a nuisance. So while I know how to make high quality compost, I am not a specialist in changing policy or wrangling waste management industries, which in my mind is much like the mafia in terms of its control over our waste stream as well as our policymakers.
So I have my knowledge and my practice, and it proves difficult to apply and expand that across a large enough base to effectively have a real business enterprise in making and selling compost. Add to that the fact that I have a debilitating autoimmune illness, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and I am required to dedicate a significant portion of my life to addressing the painful inflammatory throes of RA. So I am not able to do the labor myself, nor am I able to change policy myself.
The truth is that teamwork makes the dreamwork. What I am good at is love, connection, compassion, and friendship. So I made friends with people who were good at policy work and potentially wrangling the mafia-esque policymakers and waste management controllers. I made friends with people who could convince large multitudes of people to start small scale community composting sites.
My role then became the tech specialist. I focused my efforts on teaching and soil science. Truly I am best at being a teacher. This may be my truest calling of all. Here to teach people about the *ecology* of soil and compost, not just how to make it, but how to make it healthy and well, so that it can provide for us again and again and again with abundances of fresh, clean food, clean water, and healthy bodies. This is the key to building healthy communities.
What I have learned on this journey is that environmental justice is the real work of urban communities, and community composting is one solution to the multitude of complex issues surrounding justice work. Within that realm of environmental justice, one learns about systemic perpetration of intersectional inequality, including economic and environmental inequality.
People in oppressed communities will never have the chance to uplift themselves in a system designed to exploit them and dump their toxic waste streams into their bodies. They need help from those with privilege to undo the political ties that keep them in bondage, and even then it happens very slowly, practically one person at a time.
The more I reflect on the barriers to my dream, the more I see our structures of society and culture as the real culprits of limiting the manifestation of my dream. For one thing, we are currently living in a difficult and terrible time of a viral pandemic with a fascist oriented leader chaotically guiding us somewhere, which is not quite mitigating the pandemic at all. And so, oppressed people continue to suffer under this system.
A few years ago, one could not even speak of Capitalism as a wrong thing. It was a highly charged topic, people were very offended at criticisms of this economic system we live under. Perhaps it is the difficulty of looking at oneself and seeing the ways in which we have been wrong about Capitalism, deluded into a dream of rags to riches and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps.
I have been wearing bootstraps my whole life and I have pulled myself towards some kind of livelihood in which I am still gravely dependent on external support to function properly, partially due to my chronic illness and disability.
I have found this external support through the cultivation of an interdependent, resource-sharing, generosity-centered community that is interested in mutual support and mitigating environmental destruction in our collective lifestyles. Not to mention, I am lucky to have a family that is willing and capable of helping me out. There is privilege there too.
I am lucky too that I have only had one direct moment of coming face to face with intersectional inequality as a young Chinese-American woman working in this field. At an event where someone was expecting to meet a soil science expert, they were surprised to encounter a colorful young me, black hair, pearl faced, youth ridden as is the curse of Asian peoples. They said to me, “I was expecting an old white man,” as though old white men are the only ones worth trusting as experts in soil science. This was a real fear I expressed directly to my graduate school coordinator when I was graduating and about to leave to embark on this new adventure in my life. I said to him, “I hope it’s okay I’m not an old white man.”
I experienced this when I applied for a job at the compost industry, they told me I was at the top of the list, perhaps the 2nd in consideration. In the end, they went with the old white guy.
My dream still lives, as I am lucky to work with incredible people who are able to build out networks of community compost sites with my support. One day, we will carve out the niche, seize a slice of the pie, in the world of policy and waste management and grant making, in which we have the funds to have the sites we need to build our collective enterprise.
Teamwork makes the Dreamwork.
To escape the Capitalistic nightmare of intersectional inequality and perpetual oppression is to discover, learn, try, and embrace the shared power of collective collaboration and cooperative governance. This requires you to give up your potential for dominant power over others, to make space for true collective power that comes from a number of people committed to a shared purpose and shared vision in their lifetimes.
Choosing a life commitment is not easy, but if you are open to the idea that we are not just human beings, but souls that could potentially compost upon our earthly death and reincarnate as other organisms, and have a chance at another life, then it is like a video game. Death = Game Over. But the system can be reset, and you can try again.
The nice thing about these days is that you can criticize Capitalism, and many people are doing it with a vengeance. They have every right to, for Capitalism is a system built on violence, defined by oppression and inequality. Colonization, genocide, slavery. Say it like it is.
There is no escaping societal structures, or at least, it is extremely difficult to drop out of society. We are all victims of Capitalism, and so we are all at fault, we are all perpetrators, and we are all oppressed.
So while I am still on the journey to achieve my dream, I have found a way to stick with it by cultivating a livelihood that allows me to traverse both worlds of Capitalism and something better. That something better is still elusive to me, it may be socialism or communism. In practice it has meant I devote part of my time to non-profit and volunteer work, and the other part of my time to building a business centered around education, consulting, and other skill sets I have such as art, gardening, and crafting handmade goods.
As many of you know, the non-profit world is ridden with many of the same issues perpetuating the status quo of inequality and oppression. It is by no means a solution to the issue, though it offers much help to many people, it is still much more like a band-aid on an endlessly bleeding wound.
Why is the wound still bleeding?
Can we stop the bleeding?
This is the real question. Can we stop creating wounds? Can we start creating healing and wholeness instead?
I chose a hybrid model for my own self, sort of like social enterprise for creative entrepreneurship. It was a way to maintain some level of pleasurable livelihood while working on discovering that elusive something better.
I have come across cooperative leadership structures as one of the better tools to fall into that category of something better. These are not perfect either, but we continue to learn, grow, and evolve. My team and I want to create a better version of cooperative governance, we want to walk away entirely from any kind of perpetration of status quo nonsense.
Our world is in flux, and so too are our financial systems. For so long we have valued money above all else, to the point of our cosmic demise. We could destroy our whole universe if we wanted to continue following the lure of the dollar sign. We are nothing but molds, feasting infinitely, not knowing how to stop until we’ve reached our limits and have no choice but to die and be feasted on by some other organism. That is how ecology works. If we want to evolve beyond a mold, then we must do the difficult work of self-reflection, learning, growing, research, education, and experimentation. We must evolve or die. That is how life works.
Freedom and pleasure are the true motivators of my life. I am not well motivated by money, other than knowing it can bring me more freedom and more pleasure. Money for the sake of money, though, is too abstract for this earthly Taurus.
I am a water buffalo, and my greatest pleasure is soil and water.
There is not much money in that.
And so to survive, I too must learn to evolve within a Capitalistic framework and learn business skills. I am lucky too to have grown up in a time where self-employment has become all the rage.
Again, though, I am a stubborn water buffalo and I refuse to do anything I don’t like. And so I carve out a complex path for myself. I commit to certain types of work, but I burn out easily on any one thing for too long. I need complexity and multiplicity, many different types of projects to intrigue my creative senses.
What is the purpose of life if not to experience the earthly delights this reality has to offer?
I am a soil scientist, and I am an artist. I am a composter, and I am a community builder. I am an ecologist, and I am a social and cultural systems analyst. Right now I am making candles and balms because the hands-on work feeds my soul in this time of isolation and quarantine. They give hope and healing to those who receive them, they support the post office, and candle magic is a prayer for something better to come along.
I am a writer too, and an oracular diviner, I am a healer and a seeker.
But above all, I believe my greatest gift is that I can be a friend to just about anyone. Friendship has been my greatest empowerment and my greatest salvation.
And so I advocate for that in anything you want to do, whether it’s building a business, making compost, changing the world, or creating community. Find out how to make friends. The kinds you can keep in true trust for all of eternity.
Because no matter what is going on, Teamwork makes the Dreamwork.