COMPOSTING 101: WHY AND HOW YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

GUEST POST BY: DAVE SALAZAR - ORGANIC FARMER


ONE OF OUR REQUIREMENTS WHEN FULFILLING CATERING JOBS IS TO MAKE ETHICAL AND MEANINGFUL EFFORTS TOWARDS MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN OUR CURRENT FOOD SCENE. ONE OF THESE REQUIREMENTS IS TO PRACTICE COMPOSTING DURING OUR PREPARATION AS WELL AS DURING OUR CLEAN-UP AT ALL OF OUR EVENTS. NOT ONLY DO WE MAKE A DIFFERENCE ON OUR OWN, WE EDUCATE OUR CLIENTS AND CUSTOMERS ON HOW THEY TOO, CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

WE'VE BEEN LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE OUR GOOD FRIEND AND FARMER, DAVE SALAZAR (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH ONE OF OUR FAVORITE PHOTOGRAPHERS, DAVID SALAZAR) WRITE A FEATURED POST ON THE IMPORTANCE OF COMPOSTING, HIS OUTLOOK ON THE SCIENTIFIC, AEROBIC, AND LIFE-RECYCLING MEANING BEHIND IT ALL. OUR GOAL IS NOT TO HAVE EVERY READER BECOME A MASTER AT COMPOSTING (WE CERTAINLY ARE NOT), BUT WE WANT READERS TO UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE BEHIND WHY WE STRIVE TO PRACTICE THIS AT OUR EVENTS & OUR BUSINESS. IT MEANS SOMETHING TO US AND WE'D LOVE TO EXPLAIN THE WHY!



THE DETAILS FROM DAVE:

COMPOSTING IS AN AEROBIC REACTION WHICH HARNESSES BENEFICIAL MICROBES (BACTERIA, FUNGI & ACTINOMYCETES) TO DIGEST FOOD SCRAPS AND CARBON SOURCES SUCH AS STRAW OR DRIED LEAVES. THE RESULTING PRODUCT IS NUTRIENT-RICH FLUFFY HUMUS (ORGANIC MATTER) WHICH CAN VASTLY IMPROVE SOIL QUALITY. THE MICROBES THAT BREAK DOWN FOOD IN COMPOSTING BREATHE AIR. THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF COMPOSTING IS TO KEEP TURNING THE PILE SO THEY DONT SUFFOCATE.

BASICALLY, THE MICROBES THAT LIVE IN A COMPOST PILE, USE CARBON AS A HOME AND NITROGEN AS A FOOD SOURCE. THE IDEAL PILE OF COMPOST WILL HAVE A RATIO OF C:N AROUND 25:1. FOOD SCRAPS TYPICALLY HAVE A C:N AROUND 15:1. FARMS OFTEN USE OLD STRAW OR DRIED LEAVES AS A SOURCE OF ADDITIONAL CARBON. 
(Yes, we got a bit technical on you for a second.)    


Piles of organic matter to be composted by our friends at Sun Fresh Farm

Piles of organic matter to be composted by our friends at Sun Fresh Farm


WHILE WORKING AT POTOMAC VEGETABLE FARM IN VIRGINIA, I MADE HIGH QUALITY COMPOST BY FOLLOWING THE LUEBKE METHOD, OR CONTROLLED MICROBIAL COMPOSTING. ALL THE "INGREDIENTS" (STRAW, LEAVES, MANURE, AND OLD VEGETABLES) OF THE COMPOST ARE LAID OUT IN 200 FOOT STRIPS (QINDROWS) ABOUT THIGH HEIGHT. A FEW BUCKETS OF FINISHED COMPOST WAS THEN ADDED TO INOCULATE THE WINDROW WITH BENEFICIAL COMPOSTING MICROBES. A TRACTOR WITH SPECIALLY-DESIGNED WINDROW TURNERS WAS USED A FEW TIMES A WEEK TO MIX ALL OF THE INGREDIENTS AND 'FLUFF' THE PILES TO FACILITATE RESPIRATION. HUGE FELT BLANKETS WERE THEN USED TO KEEP EXCESSIVE RAINFALL FROM SOAKING THE PILES, WHILE STILL ALLOWING THE PILES TO BREATHE. THE INTERNAL (FROM THE CENTER OF THE PILE) TEMPERATURE OF THE PILE WAS CHECKED EVERYDAY WAS WELL AS THE LEVELS OF THE MOISTURE AND CO2. AFTER HOVERING AROUND 150 DEGREES, THE PILE WILL BEGIN TO COOL AS THE COMPOST BECOMES READY. THE ENTIRE PROCESS TYPICALLY TAKES 8-10 WEEKS. 

Farmer Jeremy from Sun Fresh Farm showing us organic matter soon to be composted.

Farmer Jeremy from Sun Fresh Farm showing us organic matter soon to be composted.

THE FINISHED PRODUCT OF A WELL-MANAGED COMPOST PILE IS ORGANIC MATTER CALLED 'HUMUS' QHICH DOES WONDERS FOR SOIL HEALTH, AS WELL AS PROVIDES A THRIVING ECOSYSTEM FOR PLANTS TO GROW. THE ADDITION OF HUMUS TO THE SOIL IS BENEFICIAL IN A MYRIAD OF WAYS. HUMUS ACTS AS A SPONGE, INCREASING THE SOIL'S ABILITY TO RETAIN WATER, MAKING PLANTS MORE RESISTANT TO BOTH DROUGHTS AND FLOODING. THE MOLECULAR STRUCTURE OF HUMUS INCREASES SOIL'S NUTRIENT-HOLDING ABILITY, CALLED "CATION-EXCHANGE CAPACITY." HUMUS CAN HOLD ONTO CRUCIAL NUTRIENTS SUCH AS POTASSIUM, CALCIUM, AND MAGNESIUM WHILE PREVENTING  THEM FROM BEING LOST DURING HEAVY RAINS, WHILE STILL REMAINING AVAILABLE TO PLANTS.

YES, SOIL HEALTH DOES AFFECT THE NUTRITIONAL COMPOSITION OF YOUR FRUITS & VEGGIES.

IN THE UNITED STATES, OVER ONE THIRD OF ALL FOOD PRODUCED IS WASTED - MORE THAN 20 POUNDS PER PERSON. ORGANIC WASTE IS THE SECOND LARGEST COMPONENT OF LANDFILLS, WHICH ARE THE LARGEST SOURCE OR METHANE EMISSIONS. METHANE IS A GREENHOUSE GAS 21 TIMES MORE POTENT THAN CO2. A PROPERLY MANAGED (WELL AERATED) COMPOST PILE SHOULD GENERATE A MINIMAL AMOUNT OF METHANE. LARGE AMOUNTS OF CO2 ARE GENERATED WHILE COMPOSTING, HOWEVER THE CARBON HAD RECENTLY BEEN TAKEN OUT OF THE ATMOSPHERE BY PLANTS AND THUS REPRESENTS A NET GAIN OF ZERO. CONVERSELY, CARBON RELEASED FROM THE BURNING OF FOSSIL FUELS HAD BEEN STORED IN THE STABLE FORM OF PETROLEUM FOR MILLENNIA. IF YOU LIVE IN A SMALL APARTMENT, THE BEST WAY TO PROCESS FOOD SCRAPS IS WITH WORMS. RED WIGGLER WORM COMPOSTING KITS ARE AVAILABLE ONLINE AND CAN EASILY HANDLE THE AMOUNT OF FOOD WASTE GENERATED BY A HOUSEHOLD. THESE HARD-WORKING HERMAPHODITES ARE THE QUICKEST WAY TO TURN APPLE CORES INTO QUALITY COMPOST IF PROPERLY MANAGED. THE DETAILS OF WORM COMPOSTING ARE COVERED IN THE PERENNIAL BEST-SELLER "WORMS EAT MY GARBAGE."

ALL-IN-ALL, IF YOU'VE GOTTEN TO THE END OF THIS ARTICLE, WE COMMEND YOU AND TAKE OUR HATS OFF TO YOU. IT WAS PRETTY INTENSE FOR A NON-GARDENER, NON-FARMER, OR THE FURTHEST THING FROM A SCIENTIST KIND OF READ. OUR EFFORTS TO REDUCE OUR WASTE, BETTER OUR SOILS, AND MAKE EFFORTS TO BETTER THE LAND THAT CONTINUES TO GIVE TO US IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS WE CAN DO AS A COMPANY. HERE AT THE COOKING COLLABORATIVE, WE VALUE OUR FARMERS AND OUR FOOD REFORMERS FOR THEIR EFFORTS AND WE'RE MOST CERTAINLY HERE TO SUPPORT THEM. WE'RE HOPING TO LINK THE FARMER'S EFFORTS TO YOUR FORK. 


IF YOU'RE A FLORIDA FARMER, PLEASE GIVE US A SHOUT AT THE LINK BELOW!