What on earth?

“Look! There’s a farmer riding down the road.”

In a bulky Carhartt coat. And leather gloves, work jeans. And … a flashy speedo helmet. “Where did Spandex go?,” said Helmut.

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Why, it’s …

This story has its origins in an era long ago, 34 years ago, to be exact. I was pregnant with my daughter and living in a 14-foot travel trailer parked next to a public restroom, located next to a small bungalow “house” on the outskirts of Grangeville, Idaho. I’d just spent the winter living on a remote ranch on the Joseph Plains without electricity, or phone, or TV, or … you name it, I was without it. Travel to the 30,000 acre ranch took 4-6 hours via dirt road or 4-6 hours on a jet boat coming up the Snake River from Lewiston. Did I say remote? If you know anything about that part of the country, you know it’s the place that time forgot. It isn’t a popular designated wilderness area. It’s wilder than that. And emptier. Along that 4-hour-dirt-road-drive, there were probably 20 old, crickety, barb-wire gates you had to stop and open, stop, shut again. These were unimproved, bumpy, SLOW, dirt roads. You knew to travel with a saw in case you came across a tree that was down. That’s the 6 hours part of 4-6 hours. We did have “neighbors,” about 10. Total. All of us living hours apart. The 4-hour trip up the Snake River was made 6 hours not because of trees that were down, but because the operator of the boat stopped every few miles to check his traps and toss a dead beaver or muskrat into the boat.

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Ready for a good cry?

You know I’m passionate about transforming waste into wonder,

but here’s a story that goes beyond anything I’ve ever dreamed possible …

and left me with tears streaming down my face.

It begins in Cateura, Paraguay, a shantytown that’s built upon a landfill where the water supply is dangerously polluted and rains bring floods of refuse.

More than 1,500 tons of solid waste arrives each day, according to UNICEF, and Cateura’s 2,500 families, young and old, survive by separating the garbage underfoot for recycling.

And yet, amid squalor beyond most Americans’ comprehension, beauty is blooming from the most unexpected places …

An old coffee can.

Bottle caps.

Discarded kitchen utensils.


One person’s trash,

it seems,

can become another’s …


“A violin is worth more than a house here,” says Favio Chavez, director of the Landfill Harmonic.

A few years ago, one of the garbage pickers, “an untutored genius of the slum,” joined forces with Chaves, a local musician, to make instruments for the children of Cateura using what they had—trash.

Like magic, violins and cellos emerged from oil drums,

flutes sprung from water pipes and spoons,

wooden packing crates became guitars,

and garbage-picking kids were transformed into musicians.

The Recycled Orchestra was born.

As the dream continues to flourish in the hearts of blossoming musicians, the orchestra is beginning to take tours around the world, stunning audiences with the quality of music that can be produced from “waste.”

At the same time, filmmakers are working on a new documentary, due to be released in 2014, which tells this tale of trash and treasure. Take a peek:

In the coming month, Landfill Harmonic is trying to raise over $113,000 to support their ongoing effort and complete the film. If you’d like to help make it happen, visit their Kickstarter page to pledge as little as a dollar.


Photos courtesy of Landfill Harmonic


Photos courtesy of Landfill Harmonic


Photos courtesy of Landfill Harmonic


Photos courtesy of Landfill Harmonic