Sustainable Urban Farm Composting

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,445.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
David Buckel
Added Value

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: biological inoculants, municipal wastes, nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, workshop, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, feasibility study, agricultural finance
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, compost extracts
  • Production Systems: holistic management, permaculture
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, composting, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, soil chemistry, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, leadership development, local and regional food systems, urban agriculture, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    To compost sustainably, an urban farm confronts unique and difficult challenges, including its own customers’ needs to compost food waste. There is no published guidance that comprehensively addresses the challenges, including sustainable practices relating to customer relations, product quality, finance, marketing, labor, and farm stewardship. As a pioneering urban farm that built a CSA from 12 members to 80, we have also begun to take on the challenges of urban composting: last year we processed approximately 160 tons of organic waste. Now we need to take the next step toward sustainability and create further success based on the assets that are unique to urban farms like ours:
    • a steady flow of community service volunteers, both individuals and large groups
    (non-profit and corporate); and
    • a CSA that includes workshares and volunteer hours.
    Using those assets, Added Value proposes to launch a sustainable enterprise development project for the compost program at its Red Hook Community Farm, working to improve labor practices, farm profits, farm stewardship, and helping to promote a healthier environment.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our methods are integrated below into a workplan for the Compost Program Coordinator, with milestones. Not reflected in the specifics of the workplan is the basic day-today task of the Coordinator to manage the compost program, including responsibility for processing materials and running the volunteer teams (corporate, youth, community service). Instead, the workplan details the additional steps necessary to advance enterprise development.

    March 2012

    • Gather input from farm’s composting volunteers regarding needs for processing compostables most efficiently
    • Develop pilot protocols for processing materials at the point of their extraction from the farm’s planting beds, as well as protocols for other overlap between the field program and the compost program (e.g., to avoid field team shifting larger labor costs to the compost team by mounding up materials that take excess time to pull apart and process)
    • Review draft protocols with the farm manager for refinements
    • Finalize protocols in anticipation of volunteer groups arriving in April for the initial clearing of the fields
    • Collaborate with the farm manager to construct and implement a greenhouse test comparing starter mix made from the farm’s vermicompost versus the commercial mix
    • To facilitate marketing to a new customer base for the farm’s excess compost, arrange for independent professional testing of the finished product from winter composting
    • Gather contact information for the prior season’s compost customers who provided donations in return for the farm’s excess compost, and launch cultivation of existing and prospective customers
    • To create an evaluative tool for the program and a foundation for a business plan, construct spread sheets to track all inputs/outputs, including materials and activities (arrival times for material and when integrated) and labor (paid or volunteer or CSA workshare)

    April 2012

    • Work with Farm Manager and youth program to identify times for Coordinator to train farm staff and youth program participants on protocols, and execute trainings
    • Prepare launch of marketing outreach to prospective customers for compost product
    • Purchase three 24 x 48 utility wagons and three 10-cubic feet wheelbarrows to accommodate volunteer teams of 12 to 30 people on field waste removal, windrow maintenance, and table sifting
    • Purchase moisture-protective but breathable fabrics to conserve quality of unsifted compost rows and prevent leachate
    • Develop storage units that preserve quality of sales-ready sifted product while allowing for easy measurement for sale (e.g., re-purpose old thermal compost bins as a way to measure out cubic yards)
    • Expand the tracking spreadsheets to capture revenue generated for product as well as appropriate customer information (e.g., contact info, needs for and uses of product)

    May 2012

    • Begin to elicit and give feedback, at bi-weekly staff meetings, on the observance and effectiveness of the protocols for processing farm waste, recording/sharing instances where protocols not followed
    • In anticipation of farmers market opening in June, develop flier or other appropriate communication method for farmers market customers who bring compostables, to address challenge of inappropriate materials
    • Compile and report out to staff on the starter mix test with Farm Manager, with proposals of a new system of managing vermicompost for next the round of starts (mixing/storage/usage)
    • With preliminary data in hand in the tracking spreadsheets, begin inquiries into pro bono assistance with developing a business plan

    June 2012

    • Based on feedback elicited/given at bi-weekly staff meetings, comprehensively amend the protocols for processing/storing farm waste, review with Farm Manager, present to all staff, and conduct remedial trainings as appropriate
    • As part of the effort to develop a business plan, research requirements for a non-profit to convert from “requested donation” model to a sales model (subject to sales tax,) including regulation of product by city/state/federal government, and further develop business plan with pro bono assistance

    July 2012

    • Develop system for pre-Autumn harvesting of vermicompost for seed starts, transplants, and side dressing, including process for cutting vermicompost with chosen medium for start mix, and work with Farm Manager to identify adequately aerated storage and usage
    • Finalize business plan and present to staff for feedback

    August 2012

    • Implement new system for managing vermicompost (mixing/storage/usage), elicit feedback at bi-weekly staff
    meetings and adjust as appropriate
    • In anticipation of influx of Fall leaves from customers and other community members, develop program for outreach about appropriate collection and transfer, measurement of input, and a system of signage for leaf silos so chronological age can be tracked and the most cured leaves deployed first
    • With staff’s feedback, amend business plan as appropriate and prepare refined version for Board, help schedule review by Board in September

    September 2012

    • Start canvassing volunteers, customers, CSA members and others regarding interest/support for winter composting to foster continued inputs and maximize volume of product
    • Present business plan and elicit feedback/approval/support from Board and others on proceeding with plan or elements of it
    • Launch pursuit of the financing suggested by the finalized business plan (whether it be a focus on sales, joint
    ventures, government funding, and/or foundations)

    October 2012

    • Launch Fall leaves collection program
    • Based on feedback from stakeholders, develop appropriate plan for winter composting to sustain drop offs and foster volunteerism
    • Devote all other available time to financing for next season based on the business plan

    November 2012

    • Elicit feedback from participants in Fall leaves collection program, share with staff for their input, and memorialize
    suggestions for improvements in the following year
    • Elicit from Farm Manager any proposed changes in purchases of commercial compost or starter mix
    • Draft end-of-year report capturing all dimensions of activity and growth in the program, including successes and challenges, with proposals for the next season

    December 2012

    • Elicit feedback from “winter composting” participants and implement appropriate improvements for January/February/March 2013
    • With the material developed for the end-of-year report, prepare text and materials to disseminate results, using
    website, tabling/workshops at urban ag events, and our standing field days with NYC “master composter” classes and visiting urban agriculture stakeholders

    With the material developed for the end-of-year report, we will develop text for the compost page of Added Value’s website that details the enterprise development in the compost program, with a link to the protocols we have developed to improve efficiency. We will convert that same text to hard-copy materials including a compost program specific flier for tables/workshops at two major agricultural-related events in New York City in the Spring (Growing Together and Making Brooklyn Bloom) and one national urban agricultural conference to be selected. And we will disseminate the materials as well during our traditional field days with the New York Compost Project’s “master composter” classes and with several urban agriculture stakeholders who schedule visits each year.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.