Caffeinated Chickens, Castoffs, and How I Finally Used My Master’s Degree


Coffee chaff in the chicken coop??? This chicken is pondering the same thing, but we’ve determined that it’s completely awesome!

A byproduct of the roasting process, they are light, fluffy, compost much more rapidly than the pine shavings these are replacing, smell fantastic, block odors, and are free! I collect mine from high-end coffee roasters located just a few miles away: Duluth Coffee Company and Alakef Coffee. This week I made the rounds of book deliveries, and instead of returning home with an empty bike trailer, I picked up the wonderfully aromatic burlap sack of chaff you see here:


Lately it seems all I do is collect unwanted castoffs from others in the community and put them to good use. The level of enjoyment and satisfaction I experience from this borders on the ridiculous. Possessing absolutely no regular income, this gleaning plugs me into the community more deeply than the traditional act of consumption. Here are some other recent examples:

Manure obtained from two different horse stables for my hugel bed and to aid in the expansion of a community garden at my church:


We took in between 80 and 100 bags of leaves by setting a sign out in the front yard. I’m always amazed so many people wish to part with them. Chopped, they make a wonderful mulch for the gardens, keep weeds down, and hold moisture in the soil. My kids and their friends had a great time jumping into enormous piles of them as well.

On the same day I arrived home with the large bag of coffee chaff, a large truck loaded with six tons of wood chips just happened to be parked behind my garage. The operator agreed to dump them right there. Six tons is proving to be A LOT more than I realized! It also provides another item for the neighbors to talk about…


We’re using these to DEEPLY cover what otherwise would be a muddy area behind my hugel bed, and lets be honest, this is just another opportunity for me to share another picture of the beauty. The kids are going to use this spot as a play area. We mined the branches (and logs for the hugel) from a nearby wooded area. Sticks are much better playthings than useless plastic objects! Anyhow, now our kids can make a mess in this area without me nagging them to clean up all the time. Old painter drop cloths will ultimately cover the teepee:


My neighbor always seems to be building something useful out of salvaged lumber. I couldn’t resist capturing this photo of his newly built woodshed. Beautiful, isn’t it? The simple act of obtaining the lumber provided him with meaningful interaction with a nearby resident who was grateful to see the wood “re-homed.”


Ironically, and without any disrespect, I found myself using my master’s degree for the first time this week. Requiring a large folder to haul promotional posters for the incredible event I’m organizing, I placed the item into service. Aside from a light dusting of coffee chaff from resting beneath the burlap bag on the ride home, it arrived looking perkier than usual, having actually been found to be useful.


Few people are aware that I have a masters in theology. I don’t speak of it much. Not only do I lack any sense of mastery, I find that the human race tends to treat me differently upon learning of it. I recall one conversation from my grad school days in Boston quite vividly. A middle-aged man and I were enjoying a splendid conversation while connecting over things of common interest. Upon hearing of my coursework he became ashen-faced, blurted out a nonsensical statement about having once supported a poor child in another country through one of those adopt-a-child charities, and then he awkwardly walked away. Strange…. Thus, I prefer to avoid such exchanges.

I’d love to see you at The Red Herring on November 24th if you’re near Duluth, Minnesota. This is going to be a celebration of local, and it’s entirely free. There will, however, be plenty of the finest local brews for purchase, as well as meaningful gifts you may obtain from our incredibly talented array of musicians and authors who are participating. There’s no charge for handshakes and conversation with our current mayor and also with the Mayor-elect. Check out my last post for more information. Here’s a link to the Facebook event page, which’ll help you stay up-to-date:

Other castoffs that I’m loving include Grandma’s old rotary phone, which I prize more than any “smart” phone or digitally enhanced item of any kind, and the 60 gallons of coffee grounds obtained from the local coffeehouse to help enhance soil fertility. Hauled in five-gallon bucket loads by bike, this harvest provided for 12 round-trips to my favorite neighborhood hangout: Amity Coffee. That’s 24 short visits of mutual benefit (collecting and returning the bucket). While I’m definitely romanticizing things a bit, I can’t afford 24 trips of gourmet coffee drinking. I found myself thankful not only for the product, but for renewed friendships within an independent, locally-owned fixture in our community. Last but not least, I helped bring in the very last of the root crops at Food Farm, which were planted around the time of my first visit. Unable to let the rejects rot in the field, I left with several enormous rutabagas that I look forward to inserting into the family’s diet in some creative way.

Lacking the cash required for conspicuous consumption, I’m discovering that it is entirely possible to increase community connections through gleaning. In whatever manner is appropriate for you, I encourage you to do the same.

2 thoughts on “Caffeinated Chickens, Castoffs, and How I Finally Used My Master’s Degree

  1. Rotary phone! Oh we loved those! We would just play with them as kids looking the ring spin calling all kinds of numbers we were not supposed to call…
    Enjoy the coffee and the grounds, and thank you for sharing these stories.

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