Home Science & TechScience The Unlikely Rise of New York’s Composting Champion

The Unlikely Rise of New York’s Composting Champion

by YAR

Talkative and personable, Mr. Morales is brimming with energy and ideas. As he made his way through the streets of Harlem after visiting one of his composting sites on a recent day, he pointed to a community garden: he’s itching to make an intervention on his fallen-looking compost bins and install a concrete pad that deters rats and facilitate shoveling. He also believes that the manual labor involved in composting could be packaged as outdoor exercises that he would call “Meaningful Movement,” and is working on a video series.

“I have all this fiery energy that never goes down,” Morales said. “It’s right there.”

Resistance was drilled into him from the start. Mr. Morales grew up with six siblings in Soundview Houses, a public housing complex in the Bronx. On his paydays, to save on subway fare, his mother had the whole family walk about 15 miles to Red Hook, Brooklyn, where he worked as a home health aide, to pick up his paycheck. . To help with the rent, Mr. Morales sold candy on the subway, often receiving tickets for illegally moving between subway cars.

The family moved into public housing in East Harlem, where the short Morales learned to fight. After his stepfather was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana, the boys were separated and placed in foster care. “My whole family was destroyed by the grass,” Morales said. Yearning to belong, Mr. Morales befriended the kids who hung out on the street. Some committed suicide, others were stabbed or shot.

At age 17, Mr. Morales found out that his girlfriend was pregnant; they had a second child two years later. Mr. Morales found work as a hotel porter, repairman, computer technician. “I always dominated the job, it got very boring, the same thing over and over again, and in most cases I was underpaid,” he said. After leaving a salad bar job that paid $6.75 an hour, he sank into despair.

On a particularly dark day, Morales was on his way to his building when he saw a sign for Green City Force, a nonprofit organization that trains public housing youth for solar power installation, gardening and other green jobs.

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