Garbage. Refuse. Debris. Rubbish. Scraps. Lots of words for stuff we don’t want anymore. . .
But the one I’m focusing on today is scraps. Kitchen scraps, to be exact – the magical stuff used for compost, also known as ‘black gold’ by gardeners and farmers. Compost is decomposed organic matter; composting is a controlled process involving time, oxygen, heat/carbon, water and bugs that all work together to effect decomposition. We basically save our kitchen scraps (except meat & dairy), coffee grinds/tea bags and egg shells, then mix it with grass clippings & dry leaves, put it into a specially designed bin with water and, if conditions go as expected, we have rich soil full of nutrients and moisture that can be transferred to garden beds in 30-90 days.
I tried it for the first time in 2018 when I was part of a 12-month study run by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food & Agricultural Science’s Extension (UF/IFAS) office to learn how much household compostable material could be diverted from the landfill. I was shocked to learn that in Sarasota County alone we produce about 900,000 tons of waste each year — 60% is recycled; 40% is landfilled. Of landfilled items, about 39,000 tons are food waste and 25,000 tons of that comes from households. In the study, we collected 10,000+ pounds (avg. 18 pounds/household/month)! Imagine what the numbers could be if more households participated. . .
One organization leading the charge for composting in the Sarasota/Manatee area is Sunshine Community Compost. It’s a non-profit run by Tracie Troxler, a gal with smarts, passion and dedication to transform ‘waste’ into a value-add for communities, while returning to the planet a fraction of what it gives to us. I met with Tracie at Gillespie Park to see her operation in action — it was the first community to install a composting system, with about 40 households participating. Residents drop off kitchen scraps into specially designed bins, weigh it, record data, combine it with dry yard waste, then wait for transformation to happen.
The bins are carefully monitored to ensure controlled decomposition and, about 90 days later, the material is used in community gardens, or shared with participants. Since it started composting, this one community has diverted more than 5,000 pounds of household scraps from the landfill. In conjunction with other sites throughout Sarasota/Manatee counties, they’ve diverted more than 25,000 pounds, to date!
Community composting sites are great if you live in a deed-restricted community or an apartment/condo, or even if you’re not a gardener, but just want to prevent your food waste from ending up in the landfill. Composting encourages us to really think about what we’re consuming and tossing, and recognize that we all share responsibility for returning food to the planet when we’re done with it. Then it’s not waste – it’s a living resource that keeps feeding the planet 🙂
A great way to try it is to sign up for the Sunshine Community Compost-A-Thon May 5-11, at a location convenient for you. As Tracie says, the goal of the event is to “activate the movement” and to “mirror what nature is doing, through community.” In 2018, about 90 households participated in the event, resulting in over 1300 pounds being diverted from the landfill, and Tracie hopes to have even greater numbers this year! There’s even a party on May 11 to celebrate everyone’s contributions, and I’ll be there showcasing recipes using kitchen scraps 🙂 Details are on their site, so be sure to check it out – it will be fun.
Note 1: the Sarasota UF/IFAS Extension office holds regular classes about composting, so please check their schedule for details.Note 2: Photos courtesy of Sunshine Community Compost 🙂