Brooklyn Navy Yard Compost Program Pilot Project

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,901.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Grant Recipient: Brooklyn Grange
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Benjamin Flanner
Brooklyn Grange

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: crop rotation, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: community services, employment opportunities, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures, urban agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Project Summary Brooklyn Grange proposes to establish New York City’s first industrial composting facility to serve the business community at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and benefit two urban farms. This program will combine established composting best practices pioneered in residential areas by community organizations, and adapt them to serve an environmentally-conscious industrial park. The pilot program will divert over 150,000 lbs of waste from the municipal solid waste stream, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating a sustainable nutrient source for the farm. It will also yield cost savings for participating businesses, and over $7,000 in savings for the farm itself. The program will be managed by Brooklyn Grange, mobilizing farmers who are widely recognized as environmental leaders to operate a commercial-scale composting facility. It will also create a replicable model that can be followed by other commercial hubs and urban communities such as universities and housing projects. Brooklyn Grange is a leader in NYC’s food and farming community and that operates innovative community oriented projects. It operates the world’s largest soil-based rooftop farms, generating over 50,000 pounds of fresh produce annually. It was awarded a 2012 Small Business of the Year award by the NYC Mayor’s Office, and in 2011 founded a non-profit educational organization called City Growers that brings over 2,500 children to the farms annually. The Brooklyn Navy Yard is a “green” industrial park with a mission to promote environmental sustainability. The Yard’s 300 acres are home to over 250 businesses, and provide an excellent backdrop for this groundbreaking composting program.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The Brooklyn Navy Yard Compost Program is a farmer-led initiative that springs from a need for a sustainable supply of compost to supplement two intensively cultivated rooftop farms. The farmers are the primary stakeholders here, and will initiate and lead the program, as well as monitor outcomes and develop reports and informational materials at year end. The program’s operations are divided into three main components: Outreach, Collection and Processing.

    Outreach and Membership
    The Brooklyn Navy Yard is an urban industrial park with 250 tenants and thousands of employees from. The businesses there include construction firms, designers, woodworkers, food processors, and tech firms among others. All of these companies generate compostable waste, be it small amounts of food scraps leftover from employee lunches or thousands of pounds of sawdust, distillers’ grains or fish waste. The compost program will engage as many as 100 different tenants and divert their organic waste into an on-site compost system. Brooklyn Grange will partner with the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation. (BNYDC) and Industrial + Technology Assistance Corporation (ITAC) to engage tenants in the program. ITAC, which already works with tenants to manage solid waste disposal and recycling throughout the Navy Yard, will integrate communications and training for the program into their existing services. BNYDC will help to raise awareness about the program through its regular e-blasts to all of the tenants, and Brooklyn Grange’s Compost Coordinator will post flyers about the program throughout the Navy Yard in order to ensure that all tenants are aware of the program at its onset.

    Once interested tenants have been identified and engaged, they will become official “members” of the compost program, and their contact information will be collected so that the Compost Coordinator can communicate with them directly. Members will receive training and informational materials that specify how compost collection
    works, and be issued keys to access their locked drop-off site collection bins.

    Compostable waste will be collected in two main ways: 1) in rolling bins located at designated compost drop-off points; and 2) through pre-arranged collections and drop-offs with members who generate large quantities of organic waste. Most of the Navy Yard’s tenants will fall under the first category for collection, and they will deposit their compostable waste into 96 gallon bins, or “toters” stationed outside of large multi-tenant buildings throughout the Navy Yard. These rolling bins will be padlocked, and all compost members will be issued a key so that they can access the bins and deposit their waste at any time. When the bins are full, the Compost Coordinator and an intern or volunteer assistant will replace them with clean, empty bins and roll the full bins to the compost site using a cargo bike and custom-made trailer. The bins will be emptied and cleaned at the site, and the waste will be integrated into the compost heaps by hand. The Compost Coordinator will regularly clean the drop-off and pickup locations to ensure that they are odor-free.

    For members who generate large quantities of compostable waste, special arrangements will be made for pickup
    and drop-off. The Compost Coordinator will work individually with these businesses to schedule pickup and dropoff
    times, and whenever possible establish weekly schedules so that compost collection is regular and

    Collected waste will include kitchen scraps from a commercial kitchen and caterer, coffee grounds from a cafe, as well as lunch rooms and office kitchens in multi-tenant buildings; fish waste (bones, skin, etc) from the Agger Fish Corporation; and distillers’ grains from Kings County Distillery. These components will make up the “greens” (nitrogen-rich waste) in the compost mix and comprise 60 percent of the total compostable waste. The remaining 40 percent of the compost mix will be comprised of “browns” (carbon-rich waste) including sawdust and wood shavings from woodworkers and furniture makers in the Navy Yard, as well as dry leaves and chipped wood collected on the Navy Yard’s grounds.

    The compost itself will be processed using a low-tech but time-tested method of windrow management. This method involves aerobic digestion, which employs millions of micro organisms (bacteria, fungi and insects) that consume, digest and expel waste matter, breaking it down into rich, fertile soil. In order to ensure that the compost area is not a nuisance and that rodents and other unwanted pests do not infest the compost area, the windrow will be maintained with an emphasis on odor control, and regularly covered with wood shavings and compost covers (permeable tarps). Brooklyn Grange will also consult with Added Value and the New York City Compost Project to adopt best management practices for odor and pest control and ensuring that contaminants
    do not infiltrate the system. In winter, heavy snows will be removed from the compost area so that materials are accessible, and during dry spells the compost will be watered with a sprinkler to ensure that decomposition is maximized.

    This method of compost management is very labor-intensive, as it requires people to turn the material by hand,using shovels to mix and aerate the compost. The program will employ Brooklyn Grange interns and volunteers from the community to regularly collect and turn the compost under the guidance of the Compost Coordinator.

    Project Timeline
    March 2013
    - Hire Compost Coordinator
    - Create Compost Membership Guidelines and Materials
    - Engage compost program volunteers and interns
    - Begin member outreach
    - Purchase necessary equipment
    - Prepare compost area
    April 2013
    - Enroll Members, conduct training sessions
    - Set up collection system at drop-off sites
    - Begin compost collection from drop-off sites
    - Begin compost pickup from large-volume participants
    May 2013 – February 2014
    - Weekly compost collection from drop-off locations and large-volume participants
    - Monthly target of 12,500 pounds collected
    - quarterly meetings with stakeholders and program partners
    February 2014
    - Complete year-end program analysis and report

    Brooklyn Grange has a highly visible media presence and takes pride in sharing information about the farm with the general public whenever possible. When the program is initiated, the farm will announce it through digital and traditional media outlets, including a compost program overview on the farm’s website, announcements on Facebook and Twitter, and a press release to relevant local media outlets.

    The general public will also be invited to learn about the compost program through our regular farm tours, at the farm stand, and through the City Growers education program. Volunteers who come to participate in the program will also be given information about the program, including technical information about how the compost works and benefits the farm’s soil.

    When the first year of the program comes to a close, a report will be assembled outlining the program partners,total amount of waste collected, total compost generated, and calculated environmental benefits. The farm will also include updates about the program and its progress in its quarterly newsletter and on social media including Facebook and Twitter. The report will also detail how the program works, including logistics of compost pickup and drop-off, management methods, tools and equipment used, and best practices/lessons learned so that others may replicate the program. For institutions or communities that are interested in learning more about the program and replicating it, Brooklyn Grange will schedule special compost program tours and consultations to pass on all useful information.

    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.