A small boy takes a handful of compost from a bucket.
Courtesy of LA Compost

LA Compost

Los Angeles, CA

LA Compost connects the people of Los Angeles to the soil and each other. Soil is fundamental to all life on Earth and is the basis of our food system and healthy surrounding environments. Compost encompasses the full story of food—from soil and seed, to food, to renewal—returning what’s inedible to the earth in a complete cycle. LA Compost values the importance of what is rejected and discarded, both in the creation of nutrient-rich soils and in the creation of thriving human communities where we all have a place.

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Transforming Waste Relations

In this podcast, Michael Martinez, founder and director of LA Compost, explores the transformative power, unexpected collaborations, and rich abundance to be found in the decomposition of food.

Michael Martinez, founder of LA Compost

Ten questions with Michael Martinez, Founder

Where do ecology, culture, and spirituality connect in your work?

MM: The mission of LA Compost is to connect the people of Los Angeles to the soil and each other. We look at the interactions that are taking place underneath our feet, as well as within the compost pile, and reflect on how the exchanges that take place are a reflection of the interactions and exchanges that we make as individuals. Each compost hub throughout the city is as diverse as the community where it is located.

What brought you to this work?

MM: A series of valuable experiences: working on old sofas with my father, who is an upholsterer; studying to be a youth pastor; running a tutoring program at a park; becoming a teacher; starting a school garden with my fifth graders; and coming to the realization that we are all part of something bigger than our individual self.

What’s one thing that you want people to know about your work?

MM: It’s all about connections being made. From connecting to the land and the story of food, to your neighbor or community members, who all possess value. This work doesn’t focus on the individual food scrap or compost contributor; it’s looking at systems as being “whole” only when you allow for the individual parts to coexist well with one another.

What do you see happening in your field—or beyond, in the world—that you’re really excited about?

MM: What excites me most in my field of work is the power of the “human network.” Individuals are starting to realize that their individual actions are part of something much bigger than themselves. Individuals are altering their habits and routines, and these changes are creating spaces and experiences that are “life giving.”

What does service mean to you?

MM: To coexist well with those around you. Engaging with others in a way where there is a transfer of life: an inhale/exhale experience where both sides are givers and receivers of something.

What keeps you going?

MM: Both my family and the potential for LA. We’re living in the most populous county in the country, and we’re in a time and space that allows us to create solutions, spaces, and experiences that can positively or negatively impact future decades.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

MM: My two-year-old son is so curious right now, I love to feed his imagination and allow him to create experiences wherever we go. From building a cave with his bedsheets to seeing him hold the string of a kite as it flies high above his head, his excitement for life fills me up.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

MM: My mother was thoughtful enough to keep some of my work from kindergarten to fifth grade. When I was five, one activity asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Rather than writing a response, we were given an opportunity to draw our ideal future. My photo (drawn with crayons) was me with a pencil and paper in hand, surrounded by trees, birds, and butterflies. I’m not quite sure what I had in mind as a five-year-old, but looking back I’d say what I get to do now is pretty close to that photo.

Do you have a favorite place in nature?

MM: For my birthday last year, my wife and I visited Redwoods National Park. Hiking alongside the tallest trees in the world was definitely a humbling experience. The trees were so majestic that we left the park feeling “full” of life. I’d call this park my favorite place in nature so far.

One thing you would like your grandparents to know about themselves that they probably wouldn’t if you didn’t tell them?

MM: I would tell my maternal grandfather that his creative spirit has helped guide my way of thinking and existing in my community. He was a trained carpenter but spent most of his time connecting with the outdoors. From his incredible garden, drawing faces on rocks in his backyard, to building my brother and I a beautiful tree house in our avocado tree, his attention to detail and connections with the outdoor world was an experience I never had a chance to thank him for.