Community Composting at Cherry Grove Farm
Ends November 2012
We at Cherry Grove Farm stumbled across a little-known, yet significant fact: the Environmental Protection Agency states that food waste in the United States is the number-one filler of our landfills! Ecocentric’s blog post 18 Little-Know Facts That Will Motivate You to Cut Back on Food Waste explains that “[b]etween on quarter and one half of the more than 590 billion pounds of food produced each year in the United States is squandered during the farm-to-table supply chain.” That is 147.5 to 295 BILLION pounds of food each year—enough, says Ecocentric, to fill the Rose Bowl stadium one to two times every day! Even the visual description is difficult to wrap your brain around.
Arming ourselves with the facts, we have decided to go into battle against this mind-boggling number by starting a Community Compost Site on the farm. We know it will be a small operation, but hey—it only take one drop of water to send ripples across the surface a pond!
To accomplish our goal of composting on a larger scale, we sought the help of our friend Dhara, a high-school student who is well educated in the fine art of composting. Dhara earned her Gold Award for the Girl Scouts of America by setting up 10 compost bins for people and organizations in her community. Even after completing her project, she continues to spread the word about this amazing way to turn household waste into what she calls “black gold.” Dhara helped us set up three different composting piles: an open pile, one made out of shipping pallets, and an Earth Machine, which her family is lending us. Check out Dhara’s blog, The Black Gold, to learn more about her hard work!
Bring yourselves and your food waste from 10 am to 2 pm on Sunday, September 2nd for the Grand Opening! Drop-off will be every Sunday thereafter from 10 am to 2 pm. There will be 2 drop-off bins on the farm where you can deposit your food waste from the week. Here is a list of what is acceptable to bring:
- Coffee Grounds and Filters
- Fruits & Vegetables
- Egg Shells
- Tea Leaves & Tea Bags
- Dairy Products
- Meat, Poultry, or Fish
- Oil or Grease
The best way to hang on to your food waste until Sunday rolls around is to keep a small bucket with a lid on your counter or under the sink. If that is not enough room (because you are a super-healthy eater and consume lots of fruits and veggies), you can keep a metal trashcan with a locking lid outside (up to 5 gallons, or it will be too heavy to move).
We request that you do not bring yard waste, as we do not have the capacity to handle vast amounts of leaves or lawn clippings. For that, the Lawrence Township Ecological Facility is much better equipped. If you do not want to make the drive, the township also offers monthly curbside brush and yard waste collection. Check out the Township’s web site for more information.
There is a bountiful amount of information on the World-Wide Web about how to get started with composting. Here are some of the basics if you would like to start a pile of your own:
Types of Compost Piles
Compost piles can be made using shipping pallets, simply creating an open pile, using an Earth Machine, or even one of those plastic rotating tumblers (these will dry out, so be sure to add water weekly).
When choosing a location for your pile, leave it high and dry! Good drainage is important so your pile does not become too soggy, and so rain water will not runoff valuable nutrients. Too much direct sun and wind will dry out the pile so shade is also ideal. If shade is not readily available, you can cover your pile with a tarp. Also, compost piles should not be put directly up against trees or housing, as any wood that comes in contact with the pile can and will begin to decay.
Contrary to popular belief, you cannot create a compost pile with only kitchen waste. The perfect compost pile is a mixture of 1 part food waste to 4 parts brown matter. Shredded fall leaves are the best brown matter, according to Mike McGrath, voice of You Bet Your Garden on WHYY. Mike calls shredded leaves “the backbone of a composting system.” You can shred leaves by using the reverse setting on a leaf blower! If leaves are not readily available, anything that was once green that is now brown will work, including straw (not hay!), dried garden waste, corn stalks, or ornamental grasses.
A good compost pile with the correct ingredients will not smell or attract flies or other pests. Avoid including meat, dairy, and other fatty foods in your pile. You can also mix food waste into the center of the pile to proactively avoid pest problems.
Turning Your Compost
When turning your pile, always move material from the top and outside into the center. It is not necessary to turn your compost if you use the correct ratio of brown (4 parts) to green (1 part) matter in your compost pile. However, a weekly turning will speed up the decomposition process, so it is beneficial if you are in need of compost quickly, or simply have the extra time and energy.
You can turn your pile even less frequently if you install a chimney to allow more airflow. A compost “chimney” can be made by drilling holes into a 4- to 5-foot tube of PVC pipe and sticking it into the center off the pile. You can also make a tall cylinder with wire fencing, which will allow even more airflow into the center if your pile. Eventually, you can see the heat generated by decomposition coming out of your chimney!
Your compost pile should neither be too dry nor too soggy. Covering your pile with a tarp will help prevent a run-off problem. A few droplets of water should appear when squeezing the compost in your had. If there is not enough moisture content, water the pile after turning it (once per week).
We created a rain barrel to water our compost piles! All you really need is a big barrel, a lid that lets water in from a gutter and keeps debris out (we used chicken wire), and a way to remove the water for easy usage. We are reusing a siphon that was intended for cleaning out fish tanks (Amanda’s fish died, and she is too bent up about it to get another one). The siphon creates a vacuum to draw the water. You could also install a spigot near the bottom of the barrel, but why use a drill when you don’t have too? Here is a great instructional page from the EPA, but there are countless ways of doing it, so make it your own!
The weather, ingredients, and labor put into your compost will all determine how quickly it will be ready. Turning your piles weekly could yield a finished product in 1 to 2 months, whereas leaving it alone will take at least 6 months. You will know your pile is ready when its volume is reduced to 1/3 of its original size, it is a deep rich brown, and it crumbles in your hands. Then you are ready to make your garden happy!
We hope to see you for our Grand Opening on Sunday, September 2nd. Until then, Happy Collecting and Composting!