GrowNYC Builds A Community Of Composters In Brooklyn

On Saturday morning, I will myself out of bed and into 30-degree temperatures to deliver a 2-gallon bag of rotting vegetables to GrowNYC’s composting station. My early riser roommate usually has the pleasure of completing this task, but she’s out of town, and our compost is taking up precious freezer space. 

GrowNYC is a nonprofit organization that aims to “improve New York City’s quality of life through environmental programs.” In addition to collecting compost, the group works on food access and agriculture, conservation efforts, building green spaces, and education.

Every Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., volunteers and staff set up at the McCarren Park Greenmarket to collect food scraps and organic waste. The station stands out. It is equipped with three green trash bins and a bright orange information tent featuring pamphlets about composting in New York City including helpful tips, like storing your food scraps in the freezer or refrigerator to prevent odor. This is just one of 50 food scrap drop-off sites throughout the five boroughs collecting 25 tons of compost each week.

Kelly McCabe hands out compost bins at McCarren Park. Photo: Marissa Roberge/Bluedot Living

McCarren Park is bustling as couples, families, dog walkers, and more line the sidewalk with paper shopping bags, compostable bags, and plastic buckets of food waste. The paper bags are emptied and torn into small pieces; the compostable bags go into the bins with the scraps; and the plastic buckets are dumped out and sent home with their owner. GrowNYC accepts most organic waste such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and yard trimmings. Meat, dairy, and fish waste are not accepted.

Managing the drop-off area today is GrowNYC Coordinator Lena Frey. Frey started working with GrowNYC in 2019. Today she is joined by Kelly McCabe, a Curbside Composting Outreach Associate for Big Reuse, a nonprofit advancing the circular economy in New York City. McCabe is handing out free compost bins to marketgoers and answering questions about the city’s efforts to bring weekly curbside composting pick-up to residents.

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Where do the GrowNYC scraps go? The scraps are transformed into fertile soil, which is distributed to community gardens, urban farms, neighborhood parks, street tree beds, and members of the public. According to, composting is one of the easiest things you can do to improve the environment because it helps keep food waste — which makes up more than one-third of the city’s waste stream — out of landfills, where it can release greenhouse gasses. 

Leah Flannigan and Arthur Wei dropped off compost with GrowNYC in McCarren Park. Photo: Marissa Roberge/Bluedot Living

When marketgoer Leah Flannigan moved to Williamsburg three years ago, she actively sought out composting sites. She had been composting with GrowNYC in the East Village and knew the infrastructure existed. Flannigan, joined by Arthur Wei, has been composting for years. Wei only started after moving in with her last year.

Flannigan says with a smile that not even 4-degree weather could stop her from coming out to compost. As it is for me, freezer real-estate is a big driver, but she also enjoys being a part of grassroots movements. She is happy that more widespread composting infrastructure is being put into place for New York City residents and credits participation from the community in public programs like GrowNYC for this progress. 

Composting isn’t just for the young. Maurice Held has been living in the neighborhood for 20 years and has been composting for as long as he can remember. Held cooks with a lot of vegetables and believes the work GrowNYC is doing is crucial. He says that it is a “consoling thing,” knowing that his waste doesn’t end up in the garbage.

There is a real sense of community this morning as regulars greet Frey with a hug and neighbors excitedly grab a free composting bin. As I walk away, I almost consider taking over my roommates’ drop-off duties from here on out. 

Lena Frey, working the compost bins for GrowNYC in McCarren Park. Photo: Marissa Roberge/Bluedot Living

You can check out to start your composting journey and to find the closest GrowNYC composting drop-off near you.

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Marissa Roberge
Marissa Roberge
Marissa Roberge is a Brooklyn, NY-based communications strategist and freelance writer with a passion for the environment, social justice, and community storytelling. Marissa received her Master's from the Columbia University School of Journalism and has written for a number of nonprofit organizations. In her free time, Marissa can be found watching ‘When Harry Met Sally’ for the umpteenth time or cooking for friends and family.
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