What we take from the earth, we must give back.
That was the lesson shared amongst those who attended the grand opening of the EcoStation Compost Centre on Seabird Island on Friday.
“Understand that if we take care of Mother Earth, Mother Earth takes care of us,” Chief Clem Seymour told the gathering, which included elected officials from Kent, Harrison and Chilliwack, along with several Seabird band council members, community members, centre staff and elders.
Seabird has been working on becoming kinder to the environment for many years, as part of a grander community plan, said Brian Jones, community economic development manager.
Four years ago, Seabird applied for funding through the Dept. of Indian Affairs to begin a three-year project to look at ways to recycle. The idea to begin composting their own material was born out of this plan, when they began to look at the amount of waste being produced. Rather than sending food scraps from beneficial programming such as the culinary arts training centre and the school’s breakfast program, they could return the waste to earth. Just in coffee grounds alone, he joked, the program is worth the effort.
By composting that material, and offering the service to the wider community, they were reducing their effect on the landfill. And by not sending their compostable waste to the landfill in Chilliwack, they have lowered their tipping fees.
Finally, the end result is wonderful compost, a material that is in great need on farms in the area.
The centre is located across the tracks from the Seabird Island Gas Bar, on the site of a retired cattle farm. It’s open for businesses and individuals, and those living on Seabird Island are eligible to have their own EcoStation compost container to make collecting the matter easier.
But the centre is also open to accept compostable materials from neighbouring municipalities. The centre is currently in phase 2, handling 4,000 tonnes per year. But it will have the capability of processing 80,000 tonnes of compost, far more than the band and its residents produce. It includes three aerated windrows, a mixer and a screener.
Mayors John Van Laerhoven and Leo Facio, along with acting mayor of Chilliwack Jason Lum were all in attendance on Friday.
Van Laerhoven and Facio both spoke of a willingness to work with the band’s centre in the future.
“In our own home, we recycle everything now,” Van Laerhoven said. “I feel guilty of all those years we didn’t recycle, but it’s amazing how little material actually has to go the roadside now (for the landfill).
“I applaud Seabird for their leadership, their vision, in getting this project off the ground,” he added. “Hopefully we can become real partners in this as time moves along.”
John Paul, from Transform Compost Systems, explained the process behind composting.
Materials go through several stages of decomposing, and is heated to a minimum of 55 degrees celsius for eight weeks. Systems are in place to reduce the odors that could emit from such a plant, and the operation is under cover due to the large amount of rain locally.
As visitors the centre listened intently, two piles of compost were steaming away in the same building with a thermometer in place to monitor the heat.
There are seven objectives within the plan for the centre.
Besides recycling and composting food scraps in the community and neighbouring communities and creating compost for the bands 700+ ha of agricultural land, Seabird is also setting out to develop a sustainable agricultural plan focusing on soil health and biodiversity to reduce dependence on chemicals and pesticides.
This will lead to producing local healthy food for the community and its neighbours, while creating jobs and sustaining economic development.
And finally, they plan to use the centre to teach others, just as the Seymour used the opening to teach a lesson in caring for our Earth.
At the end of the speeches, Seymour announced that everyone would receive a small tree, planted in compost created right in the centre. Everyone was invited to plant their tree, donated by the ministry of environment, and then take it home.
And all the while, he said, remember that we are the caretakers of the land.
To learn more about composting at Seabird, phone Aaron McNeil at 604-798-2968 or the band office at 604-796-2177.