The Baltimore region ranks among the worst in the U.S. for air pollution. According to a 2018 study, the region had 114 days where the air quality ranked as yellow or worse by the EPA’s Air Quality Index. Poor air quality triggers asthma and can cause other health issues. In fact, children in Baltimore City have asthma at twice the rate of the rest of the country. And, our hospitalization rate for pediatric asthma is one of the highest in the nation.
Some neighborhoods, like Brooklyn-Curtis Bay, have to contend with additional environmental challenges related to industrial pollution – including three active trash incinerators, pollution from the nearby highways, and factories both active and inactive. The soil in these communities remains contaminated long after a factory shutters its doors.
Marvin Hayes thinks composting is a big part of the solution to Baltimore’s many environmental challenges. “Composting is the alternative to trash incineration,” he says.” About 80 percent of our trash can be recycled or composted.”
Hayes’s first composting experience was on an Outward Bound trip while he was in high school. He was a student at Frederick Douglass High School in West Baltimore. “They asked me to take my food scraps and put them in the woods, but that’s not how we dealt with our food scraps in West Baltimore,” he recalls. “That was how I was first introduced to composting.”
While he wasn’t always passionate about composting, Hayes sees that trip as the start of his journey. One Outward Bound expedition turned into five, which led to an internship at Outward Bound, which led to a job at a wilderness school in Connecticut, which eventually led to a job at the Chesapeake Center for Youth Development. Before the center closed its doors, Hayes was involved in a youth-engaged project to collect and compost food scraps with the Baltimore Compost Collective.
That’s where he learned about the Filbert Street Garden in Brooklyn-Curtis Bay, and where two young people taught him about urban composting. Together with the Institute for Local Self Reliance, Marvin transitioned and rebranded the Baltimore Compost Collective project.
In short order, Hayes became passionate about composting and now manages the collective, which has grown to 75 customers, diverting about 400 pounds of food scraps from the incinerators weekly. But, until he become an OSI Community Fellow, his work with the collective had been part time.
“’Compost: Learn, so we don’t have to burn,’ that’s our motto,” Hayes says. “We can do so much through composting. We can help young people develop job skills and become environmental champions. And, we can help Baltimore get closer to zero waste.”
As an OSI Community Fellow, Hayes wants to teach more youth about composting and green jobs and expand his composting system at the garden to be able to handle more food scraps. Through the collective, he already works with a group of students at Benjamin Franklin High School, who have launched a zero-waste challenge and a composting project at the school, as well as school groups from across Baltimore who come to the garden to learn about small-scale composting and alternatives to trash incineration.
“I want to give this city composting fever,” says Hayes. “I want my legacy to be that I’m training the next generation. There is power in empowering other people, seeing their vision and goals, and encouraging them the way I have been encouraged.”