On a clear, chilly December day, a well-bundled crew of compost advocates from a wide spectrum of expertise and interest gathered to tour three community compost sites in Chittenden and Addison Counties.
We dubbed ourselves the “Soil Souls” and were exploring how community compost sites fit into the mosaic of options for efficiently managing food waste. After all, Vermont’s Universal Recycling and Composting Law (Act 148) is ramping up, and these folks have roles to play in making sure the infrastructure is there to enable communities to treat those scraps as a valuable resource to be made into compost.
We discussed the various ways that we are participating in community composting. The setups that we, as a group, have experience with include:
- A community garden site that composts only garden debris generated on site and the compost is used in those community garden beds.
- A community garden site that composts on-site garden debris as well as food scraps (but NOT meat, bones, or dairy) from garden-site participants only. The compost is used in those community garden beds.
- School/community garden sites that compost on-site garden debris and accept food scraps from a school kitchen, and/or from neighboring community members. In this category, at least two sites that we knew of accept meat, bones and dairy, while another site does not.
- Contamination. Keeping contaminants out of the compost piles can be a challenge. Depending on what each setup accepts, contaminants can include compostable products that don’t break down well, paper products, plastic items, diseased plants, meat, bones or dairy.
- Seasonal variations. Weather and temperature can make storage of food scraps and feedstocks (such as leaves and manure) a challenge.
- Labor. It takes a village to run a community compost system, and a healthy system requires ongoing participation – evenif that means just coming and turning the pile every once in a while. Several successful sites that we were familiar with rely upon one or two key ultra-dedicated volunteers although the program may not continue if those particular individuals no longer are available to donate their extensive time and expertise.
- Paid staff. AmeriCorps Vista staff was integral to success in the Georgia program.
- Waste station monitors. When collecting food scraps from cafeterias, events or the general public, waste station monitor efforts made a huge difference in minimizing contamination.
- Critter management. Only one site acknowledged a temporary problem with vermin, which was solved by lining the bins with ½” hardware cloth
- Data collection. Efficient record keeping systems for tracking temperatures, feedstocks, dates piles are built/turned/moved, and more, greatly assisted with monitoring factors that contribute to knowing what did and didn’t work for a particular system.
- Efficient design. Bin systems could take into account the need to fit a small tractor if one is needed to turn and move piles.
- Abby Foulk, Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD) Board rep/Charlotte and Charlotte Central School’s cafeteria and community compost program
- Rhonda Mace, CSWD’s School Outreach Coordinator
- Marge Keough, CSWD’s Community Outreach Coordinator
- Libby Weiland, Statewide Network Coordinator, Vermont Community Garden Network
- Beret Halverson, Statewide UVM Extension Master Gardener Coordinator
- Judy Elson, Ferrisburgh Central School Community Compost Program
- Emily Portman, Rock Point Center, Burlington
- Bryn Oakleaf, VT Agency of Natural Resources
- Ruby and Andrew Simon, Calahan Community Garden, Burlington
- Wick Pritchard, Program Coordinator, Grow it, Know it Program, Clarke County Extension Office, Athens, GA
- Andie Pritchard, Grow it, Know it Program, Athens, GA