Urban GreenWorks’ James Jiler – Mulch is Gold
Wednesday, August 22: a Miami City dump truck the size of a small warehouse rumbles down the driveway to the prison gates. I wait outside, more than excited – for the delivery of its load was almost one-year in the making, an answer to the hard-fought battle of finding a solution to the gardens’ poor soil and fertility. Inside the truck was 40-yards of mulch, composted landscape debris from hundreds of residential Miami homes, chipped up palm fronds, cut trees and limbs that the city collects and composts from a facility on Virginia Key. For our gardens in prison this trash is gold.
Before the summer, the State Prison Authority had inmates remove all rocks from the compound. The gardens, which depended on an elaborate system of stone walls to hold up soil and kitchen waste, were now exposed to the erosive quality of wind and rain. The forty yards of mulch could be used to contain the exposed raised beds. The prison had “giveth” what it took away.
I wave to the driver, directing him to the North gate of the prison where deliveries are typically made. The sheer size of the truck invites attention. Inmates working at the mess hall or on work crews gather in groups and stare. They know at any moment they must vacate the large compound, which officers will put under “lockdown” for the truck to enter. Officers, along with the Major who runs the facility, approach. They search the driver, open its hood, scan below the chasis and rifle through the drivers seat. “It’s more than I possibly thought,” the Major says. “These piles could pose a security risk.”
There is a moment of uncertainty when I think the mulch would never make it past the gate. “Those piles won’t last,” I tell him. “My guys are like ants at a picnic. It will all be gone by tomorrow.” Past the gates I can see inmates evacuating compound one, as if we were carting in a truckload of hazardous material. The driver, having his body properly searched, climbed onto the truck smiling. “I deliver mulch all over the city,” he said. “But this is a first.”And with that, the heavy gates rolled open. The Major jumped on the side of the truck holding on to the outside of the door, as it rolled through – forty yards of composted mulch with a direct delivery to our prison gardens.
To put this into perspective: over the past 4 years I have bought and carried by hand an estimated 350 sealed bags (2 cubic ft) of soil and compost into the prison for use in the gardens. For all those years, the only soil used in the garden – and not made from crushed coral rock and kitchen waste – came from those sealed bags. Every bag had to be approved, and its contents emptied at the gate and carried through in plastic bags and rotting garbage cans. This one delivery equaled 600 bags, took 20 minutes to pass through the gate and dump its load at the garden; and through courtesy of the City of Miami and the manager and driver of the City’s waste and composting facility on Virginia Key, was free.
- James Jiler