While it's only a short ferry ride from lower Manhattan, Governors Island feels like a world away from urban life, with its rolling green hills, stunning waterfront vistas, and a fort dating to the Revolutionary War. But on the island's eastern side, is a place uniquely grounded in the modern world, Soil Start Farm.

At Soil Start Farm, run by the nonprofit Earth Matter NY, teenagers and adults work alongside one another and source, separating 21st-century trash and turning organic matter into earth-enriching compost. Nearly 35% of New York City’s organic matter (food scraps, leaves, grass) is currently thrown into landfills, where it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

At Earth Matter NY, that same material is added to massive compost piles and backyard-size containers to teach the benefits of composting in partnership with the New York City Department of Sanitation's NYC Compost Project. The finished product, which can take months to complete, is then returned to the Trust for Governors Island’s landscape to reduce stormwater runoff and provide nutrients to native plants. Compost is also used at Soil Start Farm, Earth Matter NY’s volunteer-run fruit and vegetable farm, where cooperators learn urban farming and take home the healthy produce they grow in a mutually sustainable cycle.

Earth Matter NY’s latest garden, the Lavender Field, was designed to both promote mental wellness and attract threatened bee and bird pollinators through the intensive planting of lavender, historically revered for its healing properties. The next time you’re visiting New York City, be sure to leave the “mainland” behind for a few hours and visit this small island where Earth Matter NY is playing a large role in moving New York City to Zero Waste by 2030.