Nils Wessell: Brooklyn Butcher Blocks

Nils Wessell spends his days not far from Compost for Brooklyn, turning out elegant butcher blocks for his business, Brooklyn Butcher Blocks. About a year ago, C4B was desperate for a source of browns (carbon-rich materials) to balance the compost mixutre, and Nils was desperate to get rid of sawdust from his shop. Google connected Nils with Louise, and the rest is history.

Compost for Brooklyn (C4B): Nils, how did you get started making butcher blocks?

Nils Wessell (NW): After college–I studied art–I was banging my head against the wall trying to make art, on a professional track. I was in Portland in a basement and art was going nowhere. So I moved to New York, got a job as the assistant to a knifemaker in Brooklyn, Joel Bukiewicz. That was working in a basement. I went from Portland to Brooklyn to work in a worse basement. And I was still trying to make art on the side, but got no emotional satisfaction from what I was making. So I put that away, and started experimenting with butcher blocks. I learned from Joel about how knives and butcher blocks work togther, went to a food show and sold a few, and then things took off.

Nils Wessell and sawdust

C4B: How did you find Compost for Brooklyn?

NW: I got this big order of 150 butcher blocks and was throwing out the woodchips.  It got expensive, first of all, but I also wanted to keep things regional. The wood (cherry and black walnut, mostly) is sourced regionally, and I wanted to get rid of the wood chips nearby as well. I googled something like “compost Brooklyn” to find out where to go for this and your name came up.

Louise Bruce, C4B co-founder and director: This happened to be the same day that our start-up donation of browns from NYC compost project was running out fast and I was tearing my hair out at the computer. Then up on the screen pops an email from this guy, Nils! We’ve been working together since.

NW: One thing is, though, that the black walnut takes longer to break down than other kinds of wood, so we have to let that sit for 6 months before adding it to the compost bins. So we keep the types separate.

C4B: You have become an integral part of C4B, constructing bins, the shed, and the rainwater collection system among other things. What made you get so involved?

NW: Well, I’m lucky that I got into this strong, open community and this line of work, which is a good fit for me, because I admire people who do a craft really well and are dedicated to a process. I value work, too, and that is what attracted me to C4B–the new organization is kind of like starting a business, and you have to be a pretty serious professional ass-kicker to make something like this happen.

About compostforbrooklyn

Compost for Brooklyn empowers city residents to sustainably reduce waste and cultivate healthy urban ecosystems.
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