Outreach and Training for On-farm Composting
This project created a successful, market-based infrastructure for farm composting of commercial food and other organic waste in northwest Massachusetts. To date, more than 70 businesses diverted approximately 22,000 tons of organic materials to seven farms, and activity will continue as a regular “way of doing business” in the area. Project leaders have shared what they learned through the project with hundreds of colleagues from across the country. Additionally, a final report, “Building a Market-based System of Farm Composting of Commercial Food Waste” is available for free at www.cetonline.org. The steps taken to develop and implement the project, as well as potential pitfalls, are described depth in the report.
1. Increase the number of farms that are interested in composting on-farm materials, and increase the number and proficiency of farms that are composting on-farm materials in western MA.
2.Increase the number of farms that are interested in composting commercial organic materials, and increase the number and proficiency of farms that are registered with the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture (MA DFA) to accept source-separated organic wastes in western MA.
3. Increase the availability of materials for composting farms in western MA.
4. Document and disseminate composting information to farmers and agencies that are working with farmers, and facilitate networking/information sharing among agencies that are working with farm composters throughout the New England region.
Several factors played a role in the development and implementation of the project as well as its success including: progressive state policies relating to farm composting of off-farm wastes and the management of overall disposal capacity; the area’s semi-rural demographics; and, previous composting activity and interest in the area.
CET identified several main obstacles to the creation of a long-term, stable market for food and yard waste composting on farms. These included the risks associated with the lack of an established infrastructure; a lack of a critical mass of participants to make the logistics and economics work; and, the need for quality control in separation and processing.
CET’s general approach for the project was market-based, with a focus on making the economics work for all parties involved without on-going subsidies. Through a decentralized approach, CET worked with many farmers, waste generators and haulers simultaneously to minimize the risk of the system failing due to any one participant’s situation. This approach also helped to minimize transportation distances and costs. Assistance was targeted to participants’ needs and provided with significant follow-up until the program became self-sustaining.
CET served as a liaison among interested businesses/institutions, haulers and farms willing to accept their organic waste. Assistance included locating appropriate participants, soliciting their participation and designing or improving organic waste separation, collection, storage, transportation and processing systems.
Through the course of the project, CET learned important lessons that could be helpful to others in designing and implementing similar efforts:
Composting programs can work economically for farms and larger waste generators
Composting of commercial waste requires a high degree of maintenance but can be done successfully by some farms
Many other farms can compost farm residuals or easier to manage materials
For waste generators, separation and collection can be successful if the economics work and there is a strong commitment from management
Haulers respond best to customer demand and need efficient collection routes with long-term access to compost sites in order to succeed
A final report, “Building a Market-based System of Farm Composting of Commercial Food Waste” is available for free at www.cetonline.org. The steps taken to develop and implement the project are described in the report. Case Studies outline key aspects of the operations of representative farms, waste generators (supermarkets, institutions, restaurants) and haulers. Sample project documents and tools and other pertinent reference materials are included in the report appendices.
Reported July, 2000.