The ability to compost almost anything organic is essential, because everyone who comes to the school has what Hutchinson calls a “problem ingredient” – too much of one thing. For a student from a Jamaican canning plant, the ingredient was ackee pods; the fruit’s flesh is a hot commodity, but the leathery pods aren’t. For a farmer, the problem ingredient might be horse bedding or cow manure. For a municipal worker, the ingredient might be sewage sludge.
“It’s not so much the materials you have, but how those materials are put together,” Hutchinson says. “We try to teach methods and technology. That allows you to go back and apply it. People want to know: How do you build that recipe? What do you look for in a good pile? What does it look like? Feel like? Smell like? What do the temperatures tell you? We really want them to have the ability to transfer knowledge from one situation to another.”
The setup at Highmoor may not work for a city that wants to reduce landfill waste or a farmer who’d like to turn an old potato conveyor into a compost bagger. That’s why the schedule includes field trips to a variety of compost operations that show students what is possible from industry and waste-management perspectives.
For the Maine-based businesses and towns that have sent representatives to the school, the possibilities are endless – and inspiring. Take, for example, the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport. When Andy Ono came on board seven years ago as a purchaser, the inn was producing 40 cubic yards of waste a week – and paying someone hundreds of dollars each month to haul it away.
Ono grew up on farms, so he knew that the food waste could be turned into compost. And for a facility whose mission statement includes sustainability, environmentally sound practices and supporting local agriculture, it seemed like a logical fit. So Ono turned to the Maine Compost School to learn the finer points – the science behind the process and all the variables to consider when running such an operation.
What started as a cost-cutting measure for the inn has blossomed into a closed-loop system: Food scraps are collected on-site and trucked to a local farm. There, they are turned into compost, which the farmer then applies to the fields where produce for the tavern is grown. Today, the inn produces less than 8 cubic yards of waste a week, saving hundreds of dollars – and, in some ways, the environment.
“Done right, it can touch a lot of things. It can help a lot of things. Economically it has helped, and obviously, environmentally it has helped too,” Ono says. “It’s full circle.”
by Kristen Andresen
May – June, 2009
Image Description: The compost is used in growing produce for the inn. The closed-loop system is economically and environmentally beneficial.