Local Compost for Local Sustainable Agriculture

Compost makes the world go round, or at least the world of sustainable agriculture.  Compost, a mix of decomposed plant and animal matter that houses thousands of tiny micro organisms and nutrients vital to soil and plant health. Compost can help rebuild exhausted or depleted soil, can beef up deficient soils, and make gardens possible in places otherwise somewhat  inhospitable. The beauty of compost, of course, is that it's all organic, and totally sustainable. It fits into the natural life cycle of things thata grow, die, and then return to the earth.

You can buy compost at your local garden supply store, but chances are it's not produced locally (and maybe not even truly organically! Yikes!) You can also make your own compost at a scale that suits your needs from your kitchen and yard scraps, which would be the most "local" option on the table. But increasingly those interested in sustainable agriculture and sustainable food systems (which include waste management) are looking beyond the backyard and to a grander scale. Transfer stations and private businesses are making it their job to make good compost to sell to local farmers and gardeners, drawing on otherwise wasted resources.

Some composting businesses are run through city or town facilities, like the area transfer station. A section of the transfer station receives yard waste such as leaves, grass clippings, sticks, etc., that city residents often drop off at the dump. But yard wastes only make up half of a good compost mix. The other part, at least in some scenarios, comes from the city's wastewater treatment facility. So-called "bio-solids" are treated and strictly monitored in accordance with state or national regulations and codes. Although it may sound gross to add treated sewage sludge to compost, it is completely safe and makes the compost much more nutrient-dense. It is also a brilliant way to put biosolid waste to purposeful use, and brings things a little more full-circle.

Not all community-wide compost projects utilize biosolids. Some allow residents to dispose of their personal kitchen scraps and other compostables in a communal pile which is then added with yard waste. Others incorporate manure from local livestock farms to make a rich compost blend. Whatever the ingredients, the finished compost is often available for local farmers, gardeners, and landscapers to purchase by the yard. And many times compost dealers will give non-profit organizations or school gardens a special discount on compost products that are going towards a good cause.

While compost, and for some reason, especially compost made with human waste, isn't very glamorous, it is pretty amazing. But what's even more amazing and innovative is compost businesses sprouting up in cities everywhere helping to replace the missing link and recycle all kinds of waste into a valuable and very beneficial product.   

photo credit: olycap green bean