How my father shaped my life with compost

Madeline Cline is an avid swimmer, participating on the high school water polo and swim teams, as well as club teams. Madeline will be attending the University of California Berkeley this fall, pursuing a major in English. She will also be rowing crew as a Bear.

This essay was written for Madeline’s application to the University of California, in response to the following prompt: “Describe the world you come from – for example, your family, community or school – and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.”

By Madeline Cline

For me, the true Sonoman is someone who not only embodies the joie de vivre of the Wine Country lifestyle, but who carries within something of the independent, radical spirit of the town and its history – someone who is willing to stand out a little, to do things differently, someone like my father.

When I first tell people I’m from Sonoma, a typical response is “Sonoma is so beautiful.” While this is true, Sonoma is much more than meets the weekend wine-taster’s eye. Despite the town’s rise to national fame after “The Bachelor,” Sonoma has its own storied past. And even with the rolling hills and oak woodlands, the pastoral beauty of vineyards and sweeping views that extend to the San Francisco skyline on a clear day, I think the people of Sonoma are what truly define my hometown.

Take for example, the “Dancing Jogging Lady,” a woman in her 60s who wears a sports bra and short-shorts while dancing/jogging fanatically around town. She even has a Facebook fan club.

In 1846, Sonoma became the birthplace of California’s statehood following the famous Bear Flag Revolt. During that time, the very man the revolutionary party locked up – General Mariano Vallejo – became one of California’s preeminent state senators.

Jack London made his home in the Valley of the Moon, as did Mary Ellen “Mammie” Pleasant, a hero of the Underground Railroad who was later accused of being a voodoo princess.

But most important to me is my father, whose dedication to honest and resourceful living has shaped my life.

Just two blocks from the Plaza is our house and the home of my father’s garden. In my backyard, the sunflowers, tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers and peppers grow alongside three massive compost piles that my father lovingly tends, taking the spoiled food, plant matter, toilet paper rolls and anything that will decompose, and feeding it all to the worms and microbes.

This passion of my father’s spilled over to me and my sisters. I’m often shocked when, while visiting friends or relatives or on vacation, I see people throwing away perfectly good, recyclable products and food scraps that could be utilized in someone’s garden.

I often feel compelled to say something about the importance of being resourceful and conscientious, even persuading a few people to start small composts of their own.

While he may not be able to change the way everyone thinks about waste, my father has put his foot down on his own one-acre kingdom. It’s not always easy to adhere to my father’s rigid composting standards, and once in a while my mother will stage her own revolt by pouring something down the garbage disposal.

My father doesn’t find it nearly as funny as my sisters and I do. Late in the season, however, we see the results in a bountiful harvest.

Although I have been successful with a few people, in reality, change doesn’t come easy to people with old habits. Sonoma is a city that values old ways of doing things.

Occasionally we have to change to preserve a way of life that values the land, the community, the food and wine (think globally, eat locally).

My father understands the importance of giving something back, even if it’s a banana peel or coffee grounds. I plan to continue this habit and spirit my father has instilled in me, from participating and leading clubs or organizations which promote environmental awareness to leading by example within my family and communities.