City Dweller Builds Composting with Science and Art

Providence resident Stewart Martin’s passion for science and art have come in handy with his desire to promote urban gardening and composting. (Courtesy photo)

Providence resident Stewart Martin’s passion for science and art have come in handy with his desire to promote urban gardening and composting. (Courtesy photo)

By ABBY BORA/ecoRI News contributor

PROVIDENCE — Gardening, photography and cooking may not initially seem like similar interests, but for city resident Stewart Martin, the topics captivate him for the same reason: they all exist at the intersection of science and art.

He pursues these passions professionally while running three companies, Martin Lab + Stewart Martin Photography, Dr. Martin’s BBQ and Providence GardenWorks, an urban home gardening and composting business.

With interests in art and science, it’s no wonder that composting came naturally to Martin. Producing nutrient-rich compost requires an understanding of chemistry and biology. Designing custom composting systems is an art, as is formulating a careful blend of ingredients to create rich soil.

Martin and his wife, Adrienne Morris, moved to Providence 15 years ago from New York City. They were looking for a yard and fresh air, along with the bustle of a city. Providence was the perfect place.

“Moving here really provided me the opportunity to exercise those interests,” Martin said.

Inspired by a farm their family owns in New York, Martin and Morris decided to replace their shrubs and perennials with veggies. To grow his skills, Martin trained through multiple gardening and composting programs. He has earned numerous certifications, including becoming a tree steward with the Rhode Island Tree Council and a University of Rhode Island master gardener.

Martin said that in the past 14 years, his family hasn’t contributed even a cup’s worth of food scrap to landfills.

“We’re throwing away gold,” he said, when food scrap is casually discarded.

Compost — recycled food scrap, among other organic ingredients — contains many necessary soil nutrients that are valuable in fighting soil depletion. When not composted, organic matter rots in landfills, creating heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as methane.

After perfecting his home composting system, Martin realized he had something to share that would be beneficial to his community. Providence GardenWorks began as a concept for a home composting company, but after encouragement from a friend, Martin soon realized that urban gardening had to become a part of it, too.

Providence GardenWorks provides installation and training to urban gardeners and composters. For his composting clients, Martin installs an outdoor, animal-proof compost machine, and teaches them how to use it. He also provides a stainless-steel food-scrap pail, carbon filters, aerator, and a full bag of shredded leaves to begin the composting process. After installation, he offers technical support over the phone, via e-mail and on-site for six months.

Aside from installing composters, Martin works with clients to plan and plant urban gardens on their property. He recommends getting the entire family involved, especially children.

“Gardening is healthy for us on every level,” he said. “Physical, psychological and spiritual.”

Martin believes that if more people got their hands in the dirt, there’d be much less violence in the world. He noted that gardening is a popular prison program because of its restorative properties.

Martin runs Providence GardenWorks alone, but he’s been influenced by numerous organizations and business throughout Rhode Island, including Cluck!, Earth Care Farm and The Compost Plant.

“Every group I’ve run into in Rhode Island are gems,” Martin said. “I can’t say enough positive things about them.”

While local organizations are working toward better food-scrap management, Martin wishes the city of Providence would commit to initiatives like the food-scrap collection program run by the city of Berkeley, Calif.

“It’s the lack of political will in Rhode Island, that’s why we don’t have food-waste collection,” Martin said. “The myriad benefits are well documented and it’s not rocket science. No one has to reinvent the wheel here.”

In the meantime, social enterprises such as Providence GardenWorks and Michael Bradlee’s Earth Appliance operation at Frey Florist on Smith Hill are paving the way toward sustainable food-scrap management in Rhode Island.