November 8, 2019

Smash your pumpkins—it could help keep your community healthy.

From composting pumpkins to reducing loneliness, there are many things we can do to keep our communities healthy.

How to make use of your post-Halloween pumpkins? Smash them instead of tossing them and then you can compost them. Photo by Mindy Schauer/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Each week, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions people are creating in their communities. This week we’re featuring three project ideas that are helping boost community health, including mental health and environmental health. What are the innovative ideas in your hometown? Tell us at

Smashing Pumpkins: Now that Halloween has come and gone, you’re probably putting away the decorative pumpkins, both carved and uncarved, in the trash can. But don’t let those big, round gourds go to waste—they can actually boost the environmental health of your community.

Composting pumpkins captures nutrients and water that can go back into the land, from yard and gardens to public parks and local farms.

Illinois nonprofit Scarce has set up collection sites across the state for composting post-Halloween pumpkins, City Lab reports After all, pumpkins are a fruit and are mostly comprised of water. Through their efforts, Scarce says they were able to divert 12,000 gallons of water back into the soil.

Elsewhere, in Tucson, Arizona, and Newton, Massachusetts, are just a few of the cities that have created a cathartic opportunity for residents to smash pumpkins and then collect the remnants for composting. Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., nonprofit Compost Cab collects jack-o-lanterns for composting, but they also take their uncarved brethren to donate to local initiatives that fight hunger. In 2018, the group was able to bring in 3,000 pounds of pumpkins to food banks.

Sidewalk stories: Loneliness has a massive impact on individual health, but the solution is often found by creating community. Psychotherapist Traci Ruble created a movement, dubbed Sidewalk Talks, to do just that. Volunteers unfold chairs and lay out picnic blankets in order to create a welcoming corner for conversation in public spaces. Ruble’s idea first began in 2015 in San Francisco, and soon spread across the country, NationSwell reports.

Today, each city with a Sidewalk Talks chapter has a city leader who helps manage the many volunteers. Each volunteer undergoes a training course on how to listen to and connect with people, ensuring that they feel less alone.

“This is not therapy on the streets; this is taking one of its biggest tools and bringing it out to the masses,” Ruble told the Washington Post in 2016. “I’m trying to keep the message simple: It’s about listening and belonging. I’m talking about what makes us healthy, and relationships make us healthy.”

Young chefs: Cincinnati’s New Leaf Kitchen is a mobile community cooking nonprofit that teaches kids how to cook easy, nutritious meals. Their classes focus on meals that are quick to prepare and feature affordable ingredients. The nonprofit is also equipped to teach students of all ages—some classes include kids as young as 18 months.

“We start young,” says New Leaf Kitchen’s founder, Annie Streitmarter told WBUR. “They’re never too young to start cooking.”

One of their recipes, the “Mac and Squash,” provides children with a tactile, hands-on experience with the vegetables, scooping out the seeds and mashing them to make them soft and ready for cooking.

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project, made possible by Allstate, tells the stories of individuals and organizations who are solving problems in their communities.