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Community Compost: Be Smart with your Scraps!

Leading the Way to Help Small Farms with Smart Community Resource Management

At Rogue Produce and Community Compost we donate the bounty from our weekly food scrap pick up (all the leftover veggies, egg shells, coffee grounds, etc, from your kitchen) to local small farms. Most recently, Matt Suhr at Happy Dirt Veggie Patch has been the beneficiary of our service, and he kindly wrote the following article to inform our customers – old and new (sign-up here) – as to how he utilizes the compost fixings he receives.

Where Does Your Compost Go?

Compost champion Michael Allen unloads scraps at Happy Dirt Veggie Patch!

The compost you set out for Community Compost to pick up gets put to good use. Depending on logistical factors, it is dropped off at any of several local farms, including Eagle Mill Farm in Ashland and HappyDirt Veggie Patch in Medford.

Here at Happy Dirt Veggie Patch, when a van load of slop arrives it is dumped in a pile on the ground or on top of an already-built pile. We look it over to see if there is any indigestible plastic or other trash. Usually what we get from households is very clean! There is one form of plastic pollution, however, that we ignore at this stage: plastic stickers on produce. This is the most labor intensive aspect of composting. Most every item of produce sold at retail now comes with a sticker – usually plastic – that often is not removed by the consumer. It seems like it would be easy for producers to use paper-based stickers that would decompose, but that is not the case.

Freshly dumped food scraps.

When stickers are left on compost materials everything works fine until the final stages of digestion when you see countless bright plastic stickers throughout an otherwise beautiful brown compost. It is easier to pick them out after the composting process has finished, but it is still a slow tedious task and inevitably some get missed. So it is of great help to remove plastic stickers from anything before it gets into the stream of composting. The slop that is dumped is usually quite wet, so we mix it with old dry hay, manure, grass clippings and other dry materials generated on the farm. The piles are built up until they get too wide to easily access the middle. About three weeks worth of scraps makes a good-size pile.

 

Hay! We’re mixing it up!

When it has reached the appropriate size we scrape it up with the old tractor loader and make it into a taller, more compact pile, and cover that with more hay. At this point, when the items are all mixed together with air and moisture, the thermophyllic bacteria begin to multiply rapidly and the pile gets hot – often over 150 degrees! This heat builds up for a week or two, destroying all pathogens, then slowly tapers down to ambient temperature after a month or two.

Busy microbes generating some heat!

But before that happens, we turn it again. This restarts the heating up process, though this time it won’t get quite as hot and will cool more quickly. Two or three turnings are enough to digest most everything in the pile. After 6 months or so, the pile will be cool and much smaller. A substantial portion of the original food in the pile has turned back into the water and CO2  from which it was originally made. (Plants “breathe in” CO2 to make sugars, starches and cellulose—remember?)

Finished compost!

What is left is the best, most stable concentrated plant food – real compost! Full of minerals, nitrogen (the basis for protein), beneficial microbes and a mysterious substance known as humus.  We like to let piles sit for awhile to “finish”. This allows beneficial fungal activity to take over after the bacterial activity has subsided.

Finished compost is a main ingredient in our potting soil mix!

This finished compost smells good and handles easily, and is used in our fields and soil mixes to help grow happy plants and complete the cycle. Thank you for helping to close the loop! Food scraps that go to the landfill are completely wasted. Food scraps that are composted help maintain the balance of life!

Join our Program!

Now is a great time to join our Community Compost service. We are issuing the annual Customer Appreciation Coupon Book to all of our customers in the first week of January, 2020. The coupon book is a compilation of coupons donated by local businesses that support our program. Community Compost is a winning program for residents of Ashland, Talent, Phoenix and Medford, and we’d love your help in making it grow! Sign-up today!

 

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