Hannah Braden remembers measuring the very first garden beds with her dad in their home in Oklahoma City, then gardening and composting in their front and back yards.
She recalls when she was in middle school, biking with her dad the 12 miles from their house to the Regional Food Bank to volunteer in the Red Dirt Soil Builders program from 9 to noon on Saturdays. About the time that program ended, she helped her parents, David and Sara, co-founders of a new urban garden not far from their home: CommonWealth Urban Farms. She remembers weeding and helping build the beds. In fact, she planted the first bed at CommonWealth: “Carrots. In the bed closest to the stone wall.”
The first days of her composting experience at CommonWealth was with beer grains, and, soon after, the first of Whole Foods’ donations for the compost operation.
Then came high school at Classen SAS and her dream to become a performance pianist. She was accepted on an academic scholarship to Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, where she studied piano for two years. A chance to study abroad changed everything. In Pune, India, the first semester of her junior year she worked for four months on a project studying solid municipal waste management. “I learned about the waste-pickers union; the second strongest in the world. I worked with a city government and their program of separating recycling and compost; wet and dry waste.” She wrote a 40-page paper to cap her project.
Taking a gap year before going back to college for her senior year, she volunteered at a not-for-profit group called EcoCycle in Denver that collected compost. A ride on the compost collection truck piqued her interest in doing collection.
Finishing her studies at Lawrence University, she spent time during her last winter break in Hong Kong learning about sustainability and green spaces and noting waste management practices there. Her capstone project her senior year was a project she designed to study waste management in New York City.
Back in Oklahoma City, she is back at CommonWealth volunteering with the compost team. And, she is a member of the Fertile Ground team, driving trucks and bikes on compost collection routes and as backup driver for the recycling pickups. She also does special events for Fertile Ground: zero waste events at festivals and special events for groups that want to not only keep waste out of the landfill but educate people as well.
“It’s fascinating. Interesting,” she says. “It’s important to know what happens to what you throw away. Things travel all around the world. Plastic ends up in the ocean.”
Hannah’s knowledge of recycling and composting methods is vast. And she enjoys helping people learn. “People are confused about how to recycle and compost. I like having conversations with the public about what to do with garbage.”
She is using her creative skills to learn how to mark public containers so that people know more clearly how to dispose of waste. She plans to be able to take her commercial driver’s license test so that she can run Fertile Ground’s recycling routes in the big truck.
And she’s looking forward to moving into the CommonWealth neighborhood soon. With her enthusiasm, training and dedication, she brings hope to our city that we can improve our waste management. There could not be a more fitting or hoped-for homecoming! Hey, Hannah’s home!!