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Community Composting in Action

August 26, 2014

As noted in a previous blog, Community-Based Food Scrap Composting, community composting presents a scalable food diversion option that is applicable in virtually any community, whether urban, suburban, or rural. Community compost programs can be established at community (neighborhood, urban, or tribal) gardens, farms, schools, or other locations. They can be operated by not-for-profit organizations, governments, private sector, schools, housing associations, cooperatives, or through other arrangements.

According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting, there are ten basic types of community composting:

  • Community Gardens
  • Farms (Rural and Urban)
  • Schools
  • Drop-Off Networks
  • Collection Entrepreneurs
  • On-site Composters
  • Off-site Composters
  • Demonstration & Community Leader Training Sites
  • Worker-Owned Cooperatives
  • Home-based or Homesteader Hubs

Roots Composting (Flagstaff, Arizona) is an example of “collection entrepreneurs” and a “worker-owned cooperative.” The operation utilizes a range of partners, including landscapers, food waste generators, local business experts, and a local garden/agriculture advocacy group. Roots Composting is an employee-owned company with a mission is to “provide the Flagstaff community with a high quality source of local compost to both extend landfill life and support regional agriculture, while shifting thought and behavior around the concept of ‘waste’." The company provides collection services to restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, breweries, and other locations that produce compostable materials. The company produces three compost blends for sale.

ECO City Farms is a nonprofit organization focusing on community food issues in Prince George’s County and the greater Chesapeake watershed. Its community composting model is an “urban farm,” with their core operation an urban farm in the town of Edmonston, Maryland. They also work with the other port towns of Cottage City, Colmar Manor, and Bladensburg. ECO City Farms strives to demonstrate the “community empowerment, economic development, job training and community health benefits of growing chemical-free food in urban/suburban environments, close to those who will eat it.” Compost Cab, a private food scrap collection service for the Washington DC Metropolitan Area, provides roughly 700 pounds of food scraps each week for ECO City’s compost operation. ECO City uses a range of composting methods, including in-vessel, passively aerated static pile, and vermicomposting.

Growing Power, Inc. is a non-profit organization and land trust providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach, and technical assistance through the development of community food systems that help people grow, process, market, and distribute food in a sustainable manner. Growing Power has multiple farm sites, in both urban and rural settings, located around Wisconsin and Illinois. 

Growing Power represents a “community garden, urban farm, demonstration and training” community compost operation. The organization composts food scraps, farm waste, brewery waste, and coffee grounds using vermicomposting bins, static pile, and windrow composting systems. Growing Power provides collection services to restaurants in Milwaukee, collecting more than 400,000 lbs. of food scraps per week, along with 48,000-64,000 lbs. of brewery waste from Lakefront Brewery every week.

Growing Power utilizes two methods for raising red worms and for vermicomposting.  The first method is a worm bin system.  In these bins, red worms are layered with partially decomposed compost. After 12 weeks the partially decomposed compost is turned into nutrient-rich worm castings.  Each of their more than 50 vermicompost bins is checked daily to ensure that food waste is still available to the worms and that each bin is moist.  Their second method for vermicomposting is the use of a static pile or windrow.  The windrows consist of bedding materials for the worms to live in and acts as a large bin without walls.  Although the windrow has no physical barriers to prevent worms from escaping, the worms stay within the windrow as there is plenty of food for them to feed on.

Community composting offers a range of opportunities for composting…from providing a valuable soil amendment for community gardens to job training skills.  The examples above are just a few of the many community composting ventures around the country.


By Athena Lee Bradley

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