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Sashti Balasundaram, Soil Expert and Worm Lover Who Helps Grow Better Plants, Vegetables, and Flowers

An educator and entrepreneur shares stories about composting and microorganisms in a Chat with a Scientist webinar.

Published December 08, 2021

Sashti Balasundaram, Soil Expert and Worm Lover Who Helps Grow Better Plants, Vegetables, and Flowers

“It was magical when I saw food scraps break down in a worm bin,” recalls Sashti Balasundaram. “I thought to myself, worms are amazing.”

Sashti is a Master Composter, which means he is an expert at turning organic matter – like banana peels and apple cores and table scraps – into nutrient-rich compost. Mixed into soil, compost improves plant growth, enhances soil fertility, and reduces soil erosion. Results include healthy vegetables and flowers.

Sashti was amazed by worms when he worked in India with an organization that supports recycling. That fascination led to a passion for soil, and the microorganisms that are at the heart of composting. Now he heads an organization called WeRadiate that uses data and technology to improve soil health. He helps others learn how to create great compost, working with community gardens, schools, and urban farms.

Sashti is just one of many experts in science and technology who share their stories in the Chat with a Scientist series of webinars, hosted by the New York Academy of Sciences’ Global STEM Alliance. In the 60 minute programs, scientists share their passion, explain how they got where they are, and take questions from curious students.

Sashti Balasundaram at work in Manhattan’s Riverside Park

Sashti Balasundaram at work in Manhattan’s Riverside Park.

Sashti has taught at the Brooklyn Urban Garden School (known, of course, as “BUGS”), helped community gardeners across all five boroughs, and even helped the United Nations start composting at its General Assembly Building in Manhattan.

What does Sashti want kids to know about the importance of compost? “All the nutrients, the vitamins, and minerals that your family, your friends, and all humans consume each day come from soil,” he says. And there’s something else: “The environmental benefit is massive!” Compost helps soil capture carbon from the air and reduces the need for the transportation of organic waste. Composting also creates local jobs and saves communities the cost of moving garbage somewhere else.

There are many different ways to work toward a career in soil science, gardening, or agriculture. Sashti’s route was very indirect, with a background in biology, ecology, and public health. But it is easy to get started. Sashti says there are plenty of volunteer opportunities at botanical and community gardens.

The Academy’s Chat with a Scientist programs are designed for middle school and high school students and their families. The free series continues through April, and all of the programs are available through our on-demand library. Register today.