Systems Approach to Food Waste Composting for Urban Agriculture

2016 Annual Report for LNC16-382

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2016: $199,943.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2019
Grant Recipient: University of Wisconsin
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Gregory Lawless
University of Wisconsin Extension

Systems Approach to Food Waste Composting for Urban Agriculture


[We were not required to submit a report for 2016 because our project started in October, but Beth Nelson encouraged me to submit the summary below which I shared with her and project partners in January 2017.]

We’ve had a very productive 1st four months!  I cannot do justice to all the work that was done, but here’s some highlights:

  • We had a nice Kickoff event on Nov 7th at MSOE and the Rumpus Room. Members of the “public” showed up, and Ryan Schone launched a project Facebook page.
  • No less than EIGHT university classes are set up to begin work on the project this semester :
    • Michael Carriere’s students at MSOE are exploring small-scale neighborhood composting approaches.
    • Alfonso Morale’s environmental and urban planning students at UW-Madison will study public plans, program, regulations and ordinances.
    • Steve Ventura’s class at UW-Madison are contributing to the compost trials at Cream City Farms.
    • John  Berges’s class at UW-Milwaukee will also contribute the compost trials at Cream City Farms.
    • Julie Dawson’s class at UW-Madison will conduct mini-trials in a greenhouse to prepare for the outdoor trials.
    • Donna Genzmer’s GIS class at UW-Milwaukee will develop maps and other tools to improve stakeholder’s ability to make decisions.
    • Anthony Ross at UW-Milwaukee will have students at the Supply Chain Management Institute take Donna’s work further.
    • John Shutske at UW-Madison will have biological systems engineering students will tackle the same problem as the MSOE students, and we hope to connect them.
    • We would be happy to consider more student involvement for fall.
  • Grad student Tim Allen is VERY CLOSE to finishing his master’s degree, and we definitely hope to keep him on the project “post-degree.”
  • We met with Andrew Byrne at Harley-Davidson and got a better understanding of food waste diversion from the perspective of a good corporate citizen.
  • We met with great public servants at the Dept of Natural Resources (DNR) and the City’s Dept of Public Works (DPW) and HOMEGR/OWN
  • Most importantly, we met repeatedly with operating compost processors, haulers and distributors:  Will Allen, Sandy Syburg, James Jutrzonka, Melissa Tashjian, and Damian Coleman.

And that doesn’t include what some of you have done independent of this project—like launching the residential food waste collection in two neighborhoods of Milwaukee.

This past Wednesday at Milwaukee County Extension this past Wednesday we held problem-solving meeting with composters, regulatory folks, and Anthony Ross. The problem is an anticipated bottleneck in processing post-consumer food waste in Milwaukee.

Here is a link to a roughly drawn graphic that summarizes MY UNDERSTANDING of the Milwaukee’s food waste diversion system.   Keep in mind, this entire project is a “work-in-progress.”

  Apart from the student work that is just getting underway, here’s some more things to come:

  • We will meet with our farmer advisors next week to get their input on and finalize our plans for the compost trials at Cream City Farms.
  • Ryan Schone will take the lead on organizing a half-day community outreach workshop this spring at Growing Power, combined with a field day at Cream City Farms.
  • Tim Allen will follow advice from Anthony Ross (and me) to develop a “corporate roundtable meeting” in June to attract selected companies, MPS and other waste generators to share their experiences and learn more about food waste composting.
  • Very soon we expect to get a free video overview about our project from Extension colleague Mike Maddox, who will include it in his revamped Master Composter online training program.
  • We also need to get our contract in place with a Milwaukee videographer to capture project activities this spring.
  • Finally, one of our number one goals is to get an audience with staff at MMSD.  Will Allen said he’d help us get to Executive Director Kevin Shaffer. As the attached graphic imperfectly shows, the key to the whole shebang is growing demand for quality compost products.  There is hope among all the stakeholders that the “green infrastructure” promoted by MMSD could help to grow demand.



Stephen Ventura

University of Wisconsin-Madison
439 Soils-King Hall
1475 Observatory Dr
Madison, WI 53706
Donna Genzmer

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
PO Box 413
Milwaukee, WI 53201
Will Allen

Growing Power
5500 W. Silver Spring Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53218