It’s 10:30 a.m. on a warm Saturday morning in Eugene, Oregon, and Austin Farrell has ditched the University of Oregon spring football game to help his supervisor compost the food scraps from the night before at FOOD for Lane County. As he watches the steam rise from his purple mug of jasmine green tea, Farrell contemplates how to incorporate environmental sustainability into his next acoustic performance.
Farrell, a singer and songwriter, began his musical career in first grade by playing the piano. When playing wasn’t enough anymore, he wrote his first piano instrumental five years later. But when he was a freshman in high school, Farrell ditched the piano to write his first guitar and vocal song. Then, last February at 21 years old, he decided that playing music just to play music wasn’t what he wanted to do.
“Since I was young, I wanted to be famous so that I could do something great,” he says. “I want to make songs because it’s what I’m good at but also because I want to reach a bunch of people and get a message across to spark conversation.”
And that is what Farrell does as he begins playing the mesmerizing tunes with his guitar.
“So did you hear that Austin in going to be going to FOOD for Lane County tomorrow to compost?” a woman says to her friend as she stuffs a steaming piece of piece overloaded with mushrooms and olives into her mouth.
“When I was figuring out how to get the tour started, I had my music and environmental work,” he says. The idea was to get people that are interested in music and/or environmental work to come together and converse with one another,” he said.
The oddly warm night before the football game, Farrell played at the local brewery in Eugene. He busted out his guitar and sat down on a wooden stool across from the bar.
“Thank you everyone for coming. My name is Austin Farrell, and I’m going to start with ‘Stranger’s Tears’ tonight.”
The sixty people at Oakshire stop what they are doing and look at the boy in the blue, plaid flannel and glasses staring at his guitar. One fan threw his fist in the air, spilling some of his Watershed IPA onto the woman standing next to him. People devoured pizza with all sorts of toppings, drank beer and listened to Farrell’s music, which is a mixture of Bon Iver and The Middle East.
“It’s sort of like a grassroots thing where we’ll hit the music fans and the environmentally friendly fans and mesh them,” he says. “Then they’ll go out and tell their friends about the music or the composting. Oh yes, and then say my name, too.”
Farrell finishes up his last song, “Prom Queen,” but the crowd is not ready for him to be done.
“One more song, one more song, one more song,” they shout.
Farrell, with a grin on his face, sits back down and begins strumming his guitar. He plays “Black Bear,” whose serene melody seems to calm the crowd.
“For all you green people, come join me tomorrow morning at FOOD for Lane County to do work and compost,” he said at the end of the song, guitar still in hand.
Every Saturday, anyone can find Farrell behind the FOOD for Lane County building working with five hot compost bins, two 5-by-5 worm compost bins and five 50-gallon barrels of Bokashi.
“Bokashi composting uses a selected group of microorganisms to anaerobically ferment organic waste,” he says. “The microorganisms are applied using an impregnation carrier such as wheat bran
With pitchfork in hand on Saturday morning, Farrell turning hot compost piles and moving them from bin to bin until the materials were mixed. All the microbes then begin pulling from the compost and heat up to 130 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Farrell and his helpers then feed the worms some of the compost and some of the Bokashi. After, they lay an inch layer on top of the worms.
“Everything then ferments and becomes anaerobic, and frankly, really smelly,” Farrell says.
Everything is then given to FOOD for Lane County’s three gardens and organic farmers around Eugene.
And what distinguishes Farrell from other musicians isn’t only the fact that he promotes environmental sustainability through his performances, it’s his passion. His album “A Call to Conversation” includes many of the environmental issues.
“I’m scared the world is going to end. I hope someday I can still feel the sun rise on my skin,” Farrell sings as he closes Oakshire with “Black Bear.” “Teach them to imagine.”
One of Farrell’s fellow composters says that she has learned a great deal about the importance of human and environmental health from Farrell.
“I would have never thought twice about composting,” she says. “It wasn’t until I heard ‘Big Bear’ that I knew something needed to be done. I can’t imagine world ending because of the harsh ways we treat it.”
It’s not just his passion for making music but for bettering the world.
“There’s a quote from the Steve Jobs biography that I love,” he said. “’The people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones that do.’ It’s my motivation, so I’m going to keep on being crazy.”