Inaugural Salem pumpkin drop draws crowd


Hundreds of pumpkins, diverted from landfills and incinerators, will become compost for local gardens and farms. [Courtesy Photo/Marilyn Humphries]

By Shelley A. Sackett

Last Sunday at Dead Horse Beach, the sun shone brightly, the air was Fall-crisp and pumpkins were flying through the air as over 100 people participated in Salem’s first Great Pumpkin Drop and Toss.

Scotia Hunter, 10 and a fifth-grader at Carlton Innovation School, never imagined she would be throwing her jack-o’-lantern into a barrel four days after she carved its face.

“I think it’s really fun,” she said, despite hers landing a little short of its mark.

Sponsored by SAFE (Salem Alliance for the Environment), SalemRecycles and Black Earth Compost, the community event promoted composting with the goal of signing up more Salem households to participate in the fee-based service. It also provided the opportunity for people to find out if they had the skills to shoot their pumpkin through a basketball hoop.

A blue tarp in front of the truck bore the slimy remains of those former Jack o’ lanterns whose owners didn’t score.

Justin Sandler of Black Earth Compost with is glad he put down a tarp in front of his “basketball hoop” truck.


“I feel like people are underestimating how much force it takes to get a 10-pound pumpkin up and over into the truck,” said Justin Sandler, Short Stop at Black Earth Compost of Gloucester, which donated its services. “We lowered the hoop for the kids, but some people have been adventurous,” he added with a chuckle.

Black Earth Compost CEO Conor Miller, who has done post-Halloween pumpkin pick ups in other towns and has handled Salem’s for the past couple of years, knew the city was ripe for just such a special event.

“Salem’s amount of pumpkins is triple any other town’s, and I always wanted to shoot one through the basketball [hoop],” he said. “We’re trying to get as many people in Salem on board to participate in curbside composting. It’s the right thing to do.”

The idea to host a free community composting event grew out of a SAFE board meeting last summer where members set reducing residential composting rates and increasing participation as one of its top priorities for the coming year.

Initially, a grant allowed Salem to offer composting at no cost during a pilot program begun in April 2014. By that December, about 1,500 homes had signed up. When the grant ran out and the city had to start charging for the service, household participation rates took a tumble.

Current subscribers pay $8/month, but the cost could be reduced to $6.50 per month with the addition of fewer than 100 more households, according to Miller.

SAFE Chairman Pat Gozema, who has been active in SAFE since its 2001 founding, says her group is concerned about the existence of methane gas coming from landfills and the incineration of organic material, particularly food.

“We need to increase composting so food waste goes to the growing of more food rather than producing more methane gas that causes climate change,” she said.

Gozemba organized an initial event planning session shortly after last summer’s SAFE board meeting. She invited Miller, Salem Business Manager Julie Rose, and members of SalemRecycles, the all-volunteer committee appointed by Mayor Kim Driscoll in 2008 to develop ways to increase recycling and decrease waste.

Miller suggested doing a pumpkin drop off.

“He said after Halloween, the compost bins are very heavy, straining his collectors’ backs. He thought this would be helpful,” said Shelley Alpern, SAFE board member and longtime volunteer.

The group decided to make the event community-wide and free, so they could amass hundreds of pumpkins and reintroduce people to composting. Black Earth agreed to absorb the cost of the pick up in return for gaining the organic material. Coffee Time Bake Shop on Bridge Street and Honey Dew Donuts and Dunkin Donuts, both located on Washington Street, donated treats and donuts. SAFE absorbed remaining costs.

Miller started Black Earth Compost in 2010 after working in the recycling and composting fields in Wisconsin and Wyoming. He is passionate about eliminating wasted materials and committed to doing his part to make that goal a reality.

“I think of composting like a soil bank. If you’re only drawing from it, in other words sowing but not recycling the nutrients, then we’re all going to be broke,” he explained. He refers to food bank and animal feed donations as alternatives to composting, but is adamant that consumers not throw away food that came out of the ground “or we’re going to run out of nutrients.”

He too hopes more people sign up for curbside composting services after attending Sunday’s event.

“Driving from one house to the next is more efficient than driving from one neighborhood to the next. It becomes cheaper and cheaper the more people that do it,” he said.

Judging from the almost full container of names entered into a raffle for a free one-year compost pickup, the event sponsors succeeded in whetting people’s appetites to participate more in composting. The free cider and treats didn’t hurt either.

“Instead of letting pumpkins sit on the sidewalk for three weeks and rot, the city collects them and makes them into compost,” said Salem resident Craig Barcelo between bites of a donut. “This is fantastic. I’d definitely do it again.”

Salem Jazz & Soul Fest Volunteers Walk the Walk

The ninth annual Salem Jazz and Soul Festival last weekend served up more than just two days of back-to-back sizzling performances from the likes of Krewe De Groove, The North Shore Jazz Project All Stars and Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers. The non-profit SJSF, with its mission of supporting musicians and music education, is entirely run by volunteers, and for the 80 or so who ran the two-day event, the festival also served up an opportunity to give back and do something meaningful on a personal level.

“People volunteer because they love the music and they love supporting music education for kids,” said Linda Goldstein, SJSF 2015 Volunteer Coordinator, who lives in Swampscott.

They also volunteer because they have benefited from the good work SJSF does and want others to have the same opportunity.

Alex Wang, 17 years old and a 2015 Salem High School graduate, attended jazz and recording camp at Salem State University thanks to a scholarship from SJSF. “I learned so much. The best way to get better at jazz is to surround yourself with people who are better than you. That’s what I did and I improved greatly,” he said.

He also learned about the power that music has to entertain and to bring people together. “If you’ve ever played in a band, you know how that feels. It’s an activity that you can’t compare to anything else,” he said.

Wang, who has played jazz piano for the Salem High School Jazz Band for three years, volunteered at the festival last year and this year. “This is me giving back,” he said with a smile.

As a University of Massachusetts freshman in Amherst next year, he will study music education and classical clarinet. He offered this advice to incoming high school freshmen who wonder whether to get involved in jazz band: “Jump in with both feet. Don’t test the water; just go in. Have fun!”

Mayri Ross and Alexander Wang worked their shifts in the merchandise tent.

Mayri Ross and Alexander Wang worked their shifts in the merchandise tent.

Mayri Ross, 14, couldn’t agree more. When she moved from her hometown Salem to Portland, Oregon, in 2011, she didn’t know too much about jazz, although she had a background in music since her father was “big on music” and her mother was a vocalist.

Mayri Ross

Mayri Ross

She took a beginning concert band class with no idea how to play an instrument, although she had a little knowledge of how to read simple notes. She picked up the tenor sax and learned to play well enough to join the school’s intermediate band and participate in the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow, Idaho.

“I met so many new friends. It was a really interesting experience that cemented my interest in jazz,” she said.

Knowing she would be visiting family in Salem and determined to devote her summer to learning more about jazz, she began researching how to combine the two. When she found that her hometown had a jazz festival, she looked at the volunteer shifts and signed up for the pre-shows and both days of the festival, where she sold festival clothing and souvenirs in the Merchandise Tent.

“I wanted to learn more so I could grow in my art,” she said, clearly delighted that the tent’s location was right next to stage.

View from the Merchandise Tent.

View from the Merchandise Tent.

As a jazz and blues singer, Volunteer Coordinator Goldstein likes the ideas of bringing free concerts to people and of supporting music education programs for area students. She came to SJSF through her volunteer coordination activities at North Shore Jazz Project, an organization that works to create an environment on the North Shore where music education, performance and appreciation can flourish.  Many NSJP members she knew were also involved in the Jazz & Soul Fest, and they solicited Goldstein to help with the festival. This is her third year and she loves it.

“It’s not real hard to get people to volunteer, which is nice,” Goldstein said. Her duties include managing the online site where people sign up to volunteer and figuring out ways to drive traffic to the site. She makes sure that she has coverage in all the spots she needs it and that people know where to go and what to do when they arrive.

She also makes sure volunteers know how much they appreciated. “At other concerts, volunteers get [the benefit of] free admission, but because this is a free concert, festival volunteers do it out of the goodness of their hearts,” she said. In return, they are treated to a cruise around Salem Harbor and the chance to win a gift card donated generously by local vendors Finz, Flying Saucer Pizza, Fran & Diane’s Kitchen, Front Street Coffeehouse, Longboards, Seafood Shanty and the Ugly Mug Diner.

Jackie Kinney, also from Swampscott, is another huge jazz fan who wanted to volunteer her time to a cause that was personal. As project manager for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts, she has organizational skills built over a career-long period. “I’d love to be able to take those kinds of skills and move them into more of an arts and culture space,” she said.

Instead of a boxy, red volunteer T-shirt, Kinney’s was stylish, cropped and sleeveless. “I have done this for my youngest daughter. It’s a beautiful day, but it’s a hot day. I wanted to air things out so I grabbed my scissors and started to snip, snip,” she said with a laugh.

Jackie Kinney (right) and Linda Goldstein used scissors and ingenuity to create their one-of-a-kind volunteer T-shirts.

Jackie Kinney (right) and Linda Goldstein used scissors and ingenuity to create their one-of-a-kind volunteer T-shirts.

Sitting at the volunteer check-in booth, Kinney was jubilant. “I’ve been here for two hours and heard a terrific high school band. It’s fun and something I’d like to do more of,” she said, adding, “I want to get to know the people who organize this event, raise my hand, and ask, ‘What do you need?’ and ‘How can I help?’”

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