If you’ve been to our farmstand in the past year or so, you’ve probably noticed the big sign that reads “Food Scraps Accepted Here”. Since August of 2022, our farm has been operating a community composting program. By doing this, we have reduced the amount of food waste that enters our county’s landfill, where it would undergo anaerobic decomposition, releasing harmful methane gas into the atmosphere. Food waste that ends up in landfills is truly wasted: the nutrients contained in the food are not recycled back into the environment as they should be. At our farmstand, we collect food scraps in a grey 20 gallon bin. Anyone can drop off food scraps at any time, and there’s no cost to participate in the program, it is a free service that we offer to our community.
Now, you may be wondering: what happens to the food scraps after they’ve been dumped in our bin? Some people think that we feed them to our pigs, but this is not the case. While our pigs enjoy their fair share of excess milk, fruits, and vegetables, we cannot give them any form of post-consumer food waste. (Excess milk and produce are ok because they are pre-consumer waste: they have never been on someone’s plate.) Feeding table scraps to swine is actually illegal. The Swine Health Protection Act of 1980 restricts what can and cannot be fed to swine. The purpose of this law is to prevent the transmission of diseases to pigs. Pigs and people are susceptible to a lot of the same diseases (think swine flu), so if someone eats something like corn on the cob, and then feeds the partially consumed cob to a pig, they could pass along germs unintentionally.
The post-consumer food scraps that we collect are piled in our compost bunk along with all of the waste hay, soiled bedding, and manure that our animals generate. It’s important to strike the right balance between carbon-rich materials and nitrogen-rich materials (commonly referred to as “browns” and “greens”). Bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms begin to degrade the organic materials, creating heat in the process. Maintaining a temperature of 131 degrees or greater for a period of 3 days is critical to the production of safe compost, as pathogens and weed seeds may persist at lower temperatures. Every few days, we use our tractor to flip the pile over. This helps to ensure uniformity of the final compost, and aerates the pile to keep the microbes active. Every composter has their own recipe and strategy for managing the compost, but on our farm, our policy is to closely monitor the activity of our compost pile for the first two months, and then to relocate the pile to another area to continue the composting and curing process while we start a new batch in the bunk.
After about a year, we consider our compost to be finished. We currently utilize 100% of the compost that we produce to grow crops on the farm. In the future, we plan to scale up our compost production by partnering with local restaurants and institutions. Our goal is produce enough compost to meet our needs and to have extra to sell to other small farms and gardening enthusiasts in our area.
Tell us how you compost! Do you have a pile or a drum composter at home? Do you compost through a commercial composting service? If you’re not composting yet, come compost with us!