Profiles in Fields that Don't Yet Exist: The Waste-Farmer

[I walk along the path up toward the small house as the sun goes down. The dump unfolds behind it, seething with modified worms. The steady pulse of the thumpers at the edges of the dump, driving back the giant annelids and preventing them from getting into the surrounding ecosystem, is like a great heartbeat. Alexander Joffe is sitting on his front porch, plucking tunelessly at a balalaika. He sets it aside as I thumb on my recorder.]


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Good evening, are you the proprietor?

Yeah. This is my farm. You the guy from the newswire?

Yes, sir. Thanks for agreeing to meet with me, where would you like to do this?

Right here, if it's fine with you. The thumpers ain't goin' to be a problem, are they?

I can edit them out. [The sound vanishes from the recording, though his volume rises periodically, a bit less than once a second. My own speech becomes littered with pauses as I work around the sound. These changes have been edited out.]

Would you like somethin' to drink? I've got some sweet tea and some water.

Water's fine. Thank you.

[Long pause.]

So what did you want to ask me?

I'm just writing profiles of local businessmen. Sort of a Fourth Industrial Revolution thing, you know?

[Laughs] Yeah, I got you. A lot of people don't really know where their compost and plastic comes from.

I'm hoping to change that. Can you say your name for the recorder, and run us through a normal day?

My name's Zander Joffe, and I'm a waste farmer. Every morning at five, I get up and have breakfast. Kale, eggs, and biscuits if we got 'em. Round about five-thirty, I go out and feed the stock, shovel wormshit for an hour and toss plastic waste into the thresher. At noon, I shower and get some lunch, take an hour break. Round about two, I shovel wormshit again, feed the thresher a bit more. At five I take in more waste, spread it around atop the stock, getting a good layer. Seven's end of the day, I shower again eat dinner and relax until bedtime, with is ten.


I've got some modded capybara in a pen. I feed 'em table scraps, paper and cardboard. That's mostly my brother's work, though. He shovels their scratch out into a conveyer that carries it past the thumpers, the worms take care of it. The worms are also stock, but I never sell 'em. The caps sometimes have to go, if the money's tight. If they die because they're old or sick we just toss them in the dump and the worms handle 'em.

[he takes a sip of his tea.]

The worms are mostly there to handle organic waste. Turning food scraps and cap shit into composted soil. That's one of our two big products. Guaranteed organic, though you still get some people who've got a problem with the fact that we use modded worms. They're in the minority, the stickers don't really dissuade many people.

Modded how?

Well, the caps are modded to keep them from rejecting the paper waste and keep them healthy, despite bein' outside their eco-region. They get thicker fur to help 'em deal with the colder climate, and an immune system a bit more like that of a sheep or deer, and if one dies with a good pelt, we sell it cruelty-free fur, so far as I'm concerned meat isn't that bad. A bit gamey. I've had it, but I don't really sell it. My little brother 'd never forgive me.

Now the worms, that's another thing. They're local stock, got a kid two towns over who runs an operation out of his garage to make them. They get maybe thirty centimeters long, and real fat. Their metabolism's hyper-efficient and they can digest a lot of the toxins you get in soil around a dump like this. They can't dig too deep, and the thumpers keep them corralled. But you've got to go and dig out their scratch. I've got a pair of hip waders and a mask to protect me from the smell. It can get pretty foul.

You said that was one of your two big products. What's the other?

Hundred-percent reused plastic. You see that big bastard over there?

[He points at a device that looks something like an overgrown garbage disposal liberated from it's housing and turned feral.]

That's our thresher. You toss things in, and it grinds them up. Spits metal out, and we got a guy who comes by for that stuff, but that thing melts down any plastic we get and injection molds it into ten-kilo bundles. Looks like a bunch of splotchy candles tied together, you know? You can break 'em apart. Each rod's maybe a tenth of a kilo, and sized to fit in a regulation printer. We can set it for other sizes if we get an order, but that's the basic way we do it.

How did you get into this business?

Well, I got a degree in Library Science about thirty years ago, but that field got eaten in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. They made expert systems and automation that could do just about everything I could I once saw a quad-rotor drone loading a thing like a printer with books, you know, sort of a pair of rails, one at the top and one at the bottom with a little shuttle on it, put the books in exactly the right place faster than you could blink and literally decimated the field. Number of jobs shrank by ten.

So I bummed around, worked service jobs for a bit, did a lot of community garden stuff, that sort of thing. My brother got into this synthetic biology thing, and a friend of mine got into 3D printin'. I heard about how difficult it was to get plastic, and that settled it for me. I'd talk to my brother about a bacterial culture to make plastic.

Well, that didn't work, but I got on a bunch of forums, and eventually heard about that Detroit couple that started the first waste farm. It made a lot of sense, and I began to work on it. For the first ten years, we ran on periodic crowdfundin' efforts.

In addition to loans?

What? No. No, never. I wanted to own this, and I wanted to have the community give a shit. Almost none of our regular customers have to pay our listed price. Sure, people pay it to begin with, and a few choose to give us full price, but we take care of our regulars, and they take care of us.

But, noI never took out a loan. Hell, after a while, the dump was happy to leave the work to me and rented the whole damn thing out to us. We pay them a bit, they don't have to worry about managing anything after it gets onto the bluff over the west end of the worm-pit, and everything's gravy. Feel bad about puttin' those bulldozer operators out of a job, but I offered to take them on as workers. A few took me up on it, but none stuck around.

Thank you for your time, mister Joffe.

A pleasure. You want t' go down and work a day in the pit with me, put it up on your site, you let me know.

Want t' join us for dinner? Leek stew and cornbread.

Sounds delicious. Sure. Thank you.

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Posted in Home Improvement Post Date 08/28/2018






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