Composting Food Residuals on the Farm
A county agency and a farmer in Vermont have teamed up to collect and compost food residuals and other organics. The Rutland County Solid Waste District (RCSWD), which is responsible for managing MSW for 16 cities and towns, began planning the food residuals composting program in December, 1996 with the Rutland Natural Resource Conservation District, one of 14 districts in Vermont that promotes agriculture, water quality and economic development.
The conservation district canvassed area farms to determine which would be available to compost the food residuals. “The farm had to be reasonably close to Rutland where the restaurants and supermarkets are located,” notes Marshall Reed, chairman of the Board of Supervisors of the conservation district. Shaun Young, who manages Maple Sugar Farm, a 300-acre dairy farm in Tinmouth owned by his father, offered to compost the materials. Young had been stockpiling cow manure in a pit and spreading it on the farmland during the spring and summer. Vermont law prohibits manure spreading when the ground is frozen. He wanted to begin composting to help handle manure during the winter months when the cows are in the barn.
Funding to start the composting program came from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the conservation district and the Lake Champlain Basin Program. The money was used for grading and shaping the composting pad at the farm, administrative start-up, education, outreach and the purchase of 68-gallon, wheeled containers with covers. RCSWD distributed the containers in June, 1997 and started collecting organics the following month.
In the beginning, RCSWD collected from three grocery stores and one restaurant. Its customers now include seven restaurants, with three from the Killington ski resort area; five grocery stores, including two Price Choppers, two Grand Unions and one Hannafords Supermarket; and Black River Produce, a wholesale produce company. It also collects trimmings and plant culls from a nursery/florist operation. An intern working with RCSWD is approaching schools in the area to participate.
Deane Wilson, RCSWD’s waste reduction coordinator, says private haulers have the option of taking over the food residuals collection route. “So far, private haulers haven’t been interested because Rutland is rural and the collection route is spread out,” he says. The RCSWD office is 18 miles from the farm and the last stop on the collection route is two miles away. The supermarkets are located south between the office and the farm and the restaurants are scattered throughout the area. “Black River Produce is located in Proctorsville, 24 miles from the RCSWD office, but is worth collecting from because it generates two tons a week,” he notes.
Wilson uses an old Ryder truck to collect the food residuals three days/week in the summer and two days/week in the winter. “The generators are very flexible,” he notes. “If I know there won’t be enough on a particular day, they’ll let me miss a day.” During the summer, when odors can be a problem, generators store their filled containers outside and keep the lids closed.
The program does not accept paper or meat. Wilson collects waxed cardboard from two of the restaurants, which is composted with municipal yard trimmings at the district’s site instead of being brought to the farm. One dairy section of a grocery store includes a small amount of milk and yogurt with its produce. Plastic contamination has been a problem, especially at a large grocery store with a high employee turnover rate. “We’ve put up signs in the participating stores and restaurants listing what is acceptable and not acceptable, but employees don’t take the time to read them,” Wilson notes. “We’re currently putting up big signs next to the Toters that say ‘no plastic.’ RCSWD also includes contact names and phone numbers on bills and invoices sent to the generators so they know who to call if there is a problem.
The Ryder truck, which also is used by RCSWD to transport recyclables and other materials, was outfitted several years ago with a power lift gate. It has a 24-foot box. “We usually fit 28 Toters in the truck, but have had up to 36 in it,” notes Wilson. He exchanges clean containers for filled ones when collecting them. The farm has a hose attached to a hot water tank that he uses to rinse out containers.
HANDLING MATERIALS AT THE SITE
At the farm, the food residuals are transferred into one of two manure spreaders — a rear discharge John Deere Hydro-Push or a side-slinging Gehl Scavenger. The truck is backed onto an elevated loading dock and Wilson manually tips the containers into the top of the spreader. “We tried using biodegradable liners for the containers, but the bags got tangled up in the manure spreaders,” notes Wilson. Young pulls the spreader out to the composting site and off-loads the residuals. Once they are dumped on the ground, bulking agents are added, including cow bedding, sawdust, hay collected from the floor of the barn and municipal yard trimmings.
The yard trimmings are brought from a transfer station in Rutland where they first have been run through a tub grinder. Approximately five percent of the yard trimmings collected by the city are brought to the farm. The remainder are composted at the transfer station with by-products from paper mills in Vermont and New York or composted alone.
Young uses a bucket loader to mix the materials and form a windrow. The farm has one active pile measuring eight feet wide, six feet high and 80 feet long. He turns the windrow every other week with the bucket loader. The materials are composted for four months and cured for an additional two. Young spreads the finished compost on his fields. In 1998, RCSWD collected just over 300 tons and this year expects to collect over 400. It collected 36 tons this June.
It has been a challenge convincing generators to join the program. “There is a lot of interest down here for food waste composting, and when we talk with generators the local managers are very supportive, but in the end, it’s strictly a financial decision that is made by outside management,” he says. “However, more generators are expressing interest because tip fees at landfills and incinerators have gone up in the last few months.”
Local haulers bring trash to landfills in New York and New Hampshire and an incinerator in Claremont, New Hampshire, where Wilson says tip fees have risen from $45/ton to $65 to $80/ton. RCSWD charges a combined fee of $75/ton for hauling, tip fees, containers and employee education. Of this, $20 goes to the farm, $5 to the conservation district and $50 to RCSWD. By Molly Farrell.