The ComPOSTer: Studying compost use on campus farmland – project update

Continuing our review of Campus as Lab efforts, this post will provide an update on a project examining the environmental and economic implications of transitioning campus agricultural land from conventional to sustainable farming practices.

The project, led by Professor Daniel Rubenstein and assisted by me, involves engaging undergraduate students in measuring the relative importance of different soil amendments (including S.C.R.A.P Lab compost!) and weed control methods on crop productivity, soil health, and profit. Additionally, our team is analyzing the impact of low-cost fencing in reducing crop damage from deer overgrazing.

The ultimate goal of the project will be to develop a set of recommendations on how the University can farm in a more environmentally responsible and cost-effective way as the current industrial model of growing a rotation of corn and soybeans using fossil-fuel based inputs is carbon intensive, degrades soils, and pollutes waterways. Alternative and more sustainable practices that we are testing include diversifying the crop rotation, using natural soil amendments like compost, and ensuring ground cover over the winter with a cover crop in order to increase the soil’s ability to supply nutrients to crops without relying on excess use of chemical inputs.

Below is a photo essay describing the project and progress to-date:

This summer, soybeans were planted on a 5 acre farm plot in 8 sections, each of which received a specific combination of soil amendment and weed control treatments. Each soil amendment-weed control treatment is replicated twice both inside of and outside of the fence, with the exception of the compost-cultivation treatment due to a shortage of compost. Following harvesting of the soybeans in October, a winter cover crop, rye, will be planted in the horizontal strip through the middle of the field.
S.C.R.A.P. Lab compost being applied to plots #5a, 6a, and 7a via a manure spreader, two weeks prior to planting

After planting, a sloping electric fence system with a taller inner fence and shorter outer fence, was constructed in an attempt to keep deer out (deer can jump pretty high, but rather not scale two obstacles at once). Reflective tap was also added as a scare mechanism for both deer and geese.
After a few weeks of growth, the soybeans inside of the fence (on right) are noticeably taller than the soybeans outside of the fence (on left)
Arable Mark devices were set up in each of the treatment plots to measure plant growth and health in real-time. The height and greenness of the plants, measured through a metric called NDVI (or Normalized Difference Vegetation Index), is a good indicator of potential yield

Next Steps:

In a few weeks, the soybeans will be harvested using a yield counter to obtain accurate data on the productivity of each plot. We will conduct statistical analyses to determine the relative effectiveness of fencing, soil amendment, and weed control method on yield. In the spring, we will take soil samples and run the same analyses for initial impacts on soil fertility compared to baseline levels collected earlier this year. We hypothesize that the sections receiving compost and planted with winter rye will have a more favorable soil pH, a higher percentage of organic matter, and optimum levels of nutrients versus the sections that did not receive the compost or rye treatments.

In Other News

Today, September 29th, the United Nations celebrated the first ever observance of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste

The ComPOSTer: Interview with Professor Z. Jason Ren

Professor Zhiyong (Jason) Ren is a Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and is the Acting & Associate Director for Research at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. I had the pleasure of being his student in the Fall of 2019 in his class Resource Recovery for a Circular Economy. He recently started a project with Professor Anu Ramaswami on developing new methods and technologies to manage food waste in our society. In this interview, I ask him what this project is and how it relates to the circular economy, the S.C.R.A.P. Lab and environmental justice.

Professor Zhiyong (Jason) Ren; Source: cee.princeton.edu

Q: How does the work that you are doing relate to the circular economy?

A: My research is very much related to it. When you talk about the circular economy you talk about the 3 R’s: recycle, reuse, and reduce. I am more on the reuse side because we are trying to improve the values of the waste and convert it into a value-added product. Not to mention that in this project we try to actually make better value-added products out of traditionally low-price products. This has been a challenge in waste valorization. If you actually can make profits using technology made of waste material that makes economic sense then that makes the technology more applicable in the real world.

Q: Can you describe the work you are during with Professor Ramaswami?

A: Professor Ramaswami and I along with other professors in other universities have been issued an INFEWS (Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems) award from the USDA. My part of the work is looking into the technological advancements of treating food waste generated from different places and developing technologies to convert food waste to make better products. Especially if there is any possibility to produce biogas which is a cheap energy source. We’re also looking at the possibility of biochar which can enhance the anaerobic treatment process to produce energy, water, and fertilizer from food waste and hopefully then go back and actually put these resources back into community gardens. So it is a closed loop utilization of food. That’s my side of the project and we’ll work with Professor Ramaswami’s group analyzing the benefits and challenges of different technologies by using life cycle assessments and economic analysis tools to understand the system.

Q: Why do we want to develop new methods of managing our food waste?

A: Because it’s a problem, that’s for one. Food waste certainly occupies a lot of landfills, and we should not have a lot of food waste anyways because we do not want to waste a lot of food. Secondly, if we have to generate food waste we have to give it a better use. You don’t want to just throw it away and leave it rotting somewhere like a landfill which causes different issues. It would be better utilized for beneficial use which is basically the principle of a circular economy.

Q: How does the S.C.R.A.P. Lab fit into your project?

A: The campus composter and facility is a very important demonstration tool to campus as an educational tool and also is a good approach to convert campus food waste into something valuable. It is certainly a good example of waste valorization.  On the research side, this approach compliments what we do because the technology developed in my lab is not at the scale of commercial application yet. The S.C.R.A.P. Lab serves as a benchmark to which  alternative waste valorization technologies like producing protein out of food waste may be compared against. Other things can actually be in collaboration with the compost facility. It is a very important facility for our community.

Q: How would our current system for handling food waste contribute to environmental injustice? And how does your project seek environmental justice?

A: Currently a lot of food waste goes to landfill so you see how unpleasant those places are and certainly everyone has a notion of “Not in my Backyard” (NIMBY), don’t build a landfill in my backyard. I would assume most of these landfills would be closer to land and neighborhoods that are lower income and are disproportionately disadvantaged communities. So you would help to reduce those types of construction and reduce the impact on some of these communities. And from the economic side you could develop technologies to make waste a valued product that creates a lot of job opportunities and businesses within the waste management industry. As a result, waste companies can use these technologies which will create circular economy jobs that pay better and generate revenue products itself which will be economically beneficial as well.

The ComPOSTer: Interview with Professor Peter Jaffé

Peter Jaffé is the William L. Knapp Professor of Civil Engineering and Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department. Earlier this week, I conducted an interview with him regarding a recent research project on removing a pollutant called PFAS or Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, a topic of great concern among composters. In the summary of the interview below, I ask Professor Jaffé about these pollutants and the bacteria that can remove them. 

Q: What are PFAS and why is it important to develop methods to remove them?

A: It stands for per- and poly-fluorinated substances. There are about 4000 different fluorinated compounds that the chemical industry has manufactured. They are interesting because the carbon-fluorine bond is the strongest covalent bond in organic chemistry, which gives them a lot of stability, and as such the compounds have been used to create water and heat resistant products.  Two main compounds are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOS was developed by 3M which makes Scotchgard a water repellent spray and is also used as firefighting foam. PFOA was developed by DuPont to make Teflon which is a long carbon-fluorine polymer, commonly used in non-stick cookware. These molecules are a big challenge because they were built to be stable and they have no easy analog in nature so organisms haven’t evolved to degrade them so now there are health effects that we associate with them. They have developmental effects and are possibly carcinogenic, and lead to kidney diseases. They have been used quite aggressively since post-WWII and we haven’t really tracked them very much. It was only in the last decade or so that we became concerned about them.  

Q: What other types of products can you expect to find PFAS in?

A: They are in all kinds of consumer products, because when they stick to something they become water repellent. Pizza boxes have PFAS so that they don’t get too wobbly too quickly, so do cardboard food plates. Any rugs that are stain resistant, some of your clothing, airplane parts…you name it. It is pretty much everywhere.

Q: How did you discover that Acidomicrobium bacterium A6 was able to remove PFAS?

A: We first noticed that there is a process for oxidizing ammonium to nitrite in anaerobic sediments under iron reducing conditions. After we first published this finding, other researchers noticed the same including a Japanese researcher who found something similar in a reactor. They called that process Feammox which is an analog to anammox, another anaerobic ammonium oxidation process that we were studying. A microbiologist that we were working with managed to identify the organism that is responsible for this oxidation, Acidomicrobacterium A6. She managed to then grow it in a pure culture and do genomic sequencing. 

Looking at the sequencing, we noticed that it had a series of interesting genes, some oxygenation related, and those seem to be linked with the process of ammonium oxidation. Later we noticed that it had some sequences for dehalogenase enzymes. We said, “Ah, let’s try and see if we can do something with PFAS” and lo and behold we tested it and it could defluorinate them, at least most of those we have tested. There are some highly branched ones that we have difficulties with but almost everything else we can defluorinate, which is pretty stunning because so far there has been no other organism that has been shown to defluorinate the perfluorinated ones. There are some organisms that can take a single fluorine out when you have some carbon-hydrogen bonds and some carbon-fluorine bonds, but when you have no hydrogen bonds and it is all fluorine bonds so far this is the first one that has been identified.

Q: What are the limitations of using A6 to remove PFAS and how are you planning to overcome those limitations?

A: From a technological point of view, it’s an anaerobic autotrophic organism so it grows very slowly. The doubling time is somewhere between 10 to 14 days as opposed to E. coli which could be half-a-day or fewer. Anytime you have to deal with a bacterium that grows slowly that becomes hard. Another problem is that when we want to grow it in a reactor it uses ferric iron and the stoichiometry is 6 irons per ammonium assuming 100% efficiency (and it’s not 100% efficient) so the amount of iron in minerals that you have to add is large. Plus a goop of magnetite ferrihydrite will build-up in the reactor and you cannot keep running it. So the challenge is how can we keep growing this organism without iron? We have shown that it can be grown in microbial electrolysis cells, but the challenge is how do we go from these little vials to a continuous flow reactor. We are struggling with that right now. 

Q: Are there any implications related to composting or potential testing opportunities with the S.C.R.A.P. Lab?

A: Since there are PFOA precursors in pizza boxes and paper plates, if they are composted, then you’ll have PFAS in the compost, and then you will certainly not want to use the compost as a soil amendment because plants will take up the PFAS. It is something that the university should look at, but the unfortunate thing is that these analyses aren’t cheap. If you send the sample to a commercial lab, one analysis is about $450 so you want to think carefully before you spend too much money.

Q: And how does your project seek environmental justice?

A: Not directly but there are of course usually lower-income neighborhoods in locations close to industrial facilities where firefighting foam has been used so I would say that you have PFAS proportionately higher in lower-income neighborhoods. The highest PFAS are typically around military installations because they use a lot of firefighting foam in the hangars where they put planes in. I am not sure if this is still done today but in the past, these facilities would perform tests where they fill the whole hangar with foam in case a plane catches fire or something and the foam runs out and spills into the groundwater. So yes it is likely that concentrations of PFAS are higher in groundwater close to facilities so in that sense coming up with a methodology to degrade them is an indirect way to address environmental injustice.

Professor Jaffé ended the interview by stating, “I’m excited about the work. We’re excited about this organism that could oxidize ammonium, but we’re excited to have one that can target the most complicated contaminants. I have 4 new Ph.D. students coming this year and all of them want to work on different aspects so we’ll have quite strong activity in the next couple of years.”

The ComPOSTer: Event Composting & Alum Profile: Ishy Anthapur ’20

Happy first day of classes!

Princeton’s fall semester officially begins today. Over the course of this semester, the ComPOSTer will provide updates related to the relocation of the S.C.R.A.P. Lab composting facility, and feature a Q&A series with Princeton faculty who are conducting research at the S.C.R.A.P. Lab or on other topics related to composting. But before we head into the new semester, this post will wrap up the unofficial end of summer with highlights from the past month. Read below to learn about event composting and an alum profile featuring former assistant, Ishy Anthapur ’20.

Waste Less Wednesday Zoom Social Series: Composting at Events

Earlier this month, my colleague, Lisa Nicolaison, and I co-hosted a session on Johns Hopkins University’s Waste Less Wednesday Summer 2020 Zoom Social series. Check out the video recording below to hear about Princeton University’s experience hosting low waste events through the collection and composting of food and compostable serviceware.

Alum Profile: Ishy Anthapur ’20

Ishy reflects on her time working at the S.C.R.A.P. Lab and discusses her post-graduation plans. Congrats Ishy!

I worked at the S.C.R.A.P. Lab for the summer of 2019 while I was also doing research on campus for my senior thesis in the EEB department. I learned a LOT about Princeton’s sustainability plan and all the strides forward we’ve made (the S.C.R.A.P. lab being a huge part of that)! I also realized that the campus could be doing a lot more to deal with the amount of food waste in general.

My current plans are to pursue a P55 Fellowship in Boston at the Community Day Charter Public School. The S.C.R.A.P. lab affirmed my belief that community-based projects and services are so important to making an impact in terms of environmentalism and sustainability. I’m looking forward to trying to live as green as possible as I start my new job and my new life as an alum!

The ComPOSTer: Alum Profile – Kiley Coates ’20

This week at the ComPOSTer we take a quick break from Campus as Lab updates to catch up with the second S.C.R.A.P. Lab operational assistant to graduate this spring – Kiley Coates ’20.

Read below about how Kiley’s time working at the S.C.R.A.P. Lab has framed her views of sustainability on different scales and has helped in her transition to the workforce as a lab technician processing COVID-19 test samples.

Kiley’s involvement with the S.C.R.A.P. Lab can’t be overstated – she worked 220+ hours over the course of 10 months and wrote an analysis of the composting process for her senior thesis.

“I worked at the S.C.R.A.P. Lab starting May 2019 and continued there until my time was unfortunately cut short due to COVID in March 2020. The S.C.R.A.P. Lab was a great way of learning about sustainability on a variety of scales. The S.C.R.A.P. Lab itself was a larger-type operation and I was able to learn about how institutions like Princeton could use this machinery to improve their in-house sustainability practices. On smaller scales, I learned a lot about various projects on Princeton’s campus and how to apply them even when I left Princeton (having my own compost pile, using reusable silverware even outside the home, etc.). Gina Talt, my supervisor, was a champion at promoting sustainability in practical ways, recognizing the nuances of environmentalism and the importance of doing what you can, while still acknowledging the class and cultural differences that may limit someone’s ability to participate in sustainable practices. 

After graduating, I started working for LabCorp in Durham, NC in their COVID Lab. My position as a lab technician involves primarily working on the queue of pending samples and ensuring we maintain our turn-around time and process priority samples efficiently. It’s definitely pretty different from my work with the S.C.R.A.P. Lab, but I definitely utilize problem-solving skills I grew during my time with Scrappy.”

Congrats Kiley!

Thank you for being such a dedicated composting champion at Princeton. Best of luck going forward!

The ComPOSTer: Students Designing Sustainable Systems

In the class ENE202: Designing Sustainable Systems: Demonstrating the Potential of Sustainable Design Thinking taught by Professor Forrest Meggers, students learn about solving the environmental problems facing today’s society with sustainable design principles. For the final course project, students worked on a group design project focused on improving sustainability on campus. In 2018, several students decided to work on projects related to the S.C.R.A.P. Lab and making operations more efficient. The first project was an effort to streamline the process of weighing food waste and using the data to promote awareness about the composter. The second project was an effort to use solar power to heat the S.C.R.A.P. Lab instead of electric heaters.

The first project was called “Hacking the [Composter]” and sought to streamline the process of recording food waste data and create a website that would allow the student body to keep track of the impacts of the program. This project was completed by Thomas Johnson ’19, Max McPherson ’19, and Patrick Brucki ’21 in the Spring of 2018 and was inspired by the idea to allow students to be able to more easily access information about food waste on campus. Though the students were unable to create a process to directly transmit the data from the scale to a spreadsheet due to technical limitations, they were able to collect data from the composter and make many graphics and figures to demonstrate the benefits of the S.C.R.A.P. Lab. An adaptation of their work is shown below.

Photo provided by Thomas Johnson ’19

The second project was called “Solar Air Heater” and sought to create a more sustainable heating system for the S.C.R.A.P. Lab using a solar air heater alongside a photovoltaic panel that would also spread awareness of alternate heating sources throughout the Princeton University community. This project was conducted in the Spring of 2018 by Lena Dubitsky ’18, Oliver Hsu ’19, and Izzy Mangan ’19. This team of students looked into solar air heaters after finding out that the S.C.R.A.P. Lab used electric heaters to keep the temperature inside the tent at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Though this temperature is crucial for the composter to function properly and sustain an active microbial population, the team of students noted that the use of electric heaters was inefficient and “was not on a similar level of sustainability” as the rest of the system.

Diagram of a Solar Air Heater: Photo sourced from: http://www.solarsponge.com/article.htm

Solar air heaters would be more efficient than electric heaters because they turn solar radiation into heat instead of turning heat into electricity and back to heat. This team of students built a prototype out of plywood, plexiglass, a solar panel, and black spray paint. This prototype was able to change the temperature at an average of 9.6 degrees Celsius which is very promising for the prototype but was not quite ready to be used in the S.C.R.A.P. Lab. The use of solar heating for the S.C.R.A.P. Lab will be investigated further when the facility relocates to Washington Road, but overall this project highlights the potential of integrating renewable energy systems within in-vessel composting operations so that they can be fully self-sufficient and closed-loop systems.

Prototype Solar Air Heater built by Lena Dubitsky ’18, Oliver Hsu ’19, and Izzy Mangan ’19. Photo provided by Lena Dubitsky ’18

The ComPOSTer: Introducing Wesley Wiggins and an Algae-based Class Project

Hello everyone! My name is Wesley Wiggins and I am the newest writer for the ComPOSTer. I am a Princeton University undergraduate in the Class of 2021 and I am concentrating in the Department of Geosciences while obtaining a certificate in Environmental Studies. I am a member of the Princeton University EcoReps and was the former co-president of the Princeton University Geosciences Society or PUGS. Additionally, I have been an Operational Assistant at the S.C.R.A.P. Lab since Fall 2018 so I’ve spent plenty of time with SCRAPPY and working with food waste and composting.

Wesley Wiggins ’21 in Cape Town, South Africa
Photo Credits: Linh Nguyen

In the Fall 2019 semester, I worked on a project which incorporated the composter for my class ENE321: Resource Recovery for a Circular Economy taught by Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Z. Jason Ren. This class discussed the topic of a circular economy which is the idea that resources should be reused and repurposed instead of how our linear economy simply puts items into waste. Our final project for this course was to create a business idea and pitch for a company that incorporates elements of the circular economy, and when I first heard of this idea my mind immediately turned to compost. 

Composting takes food scraps and uses it to create a soil additive that enriches the earth which can assist in growing new food and/or keeping the environment healthy. My team also wanted to incorporate a new element and produce something from compost. Through our research, we learned that the process of composting emits biogenic CO2 and we wanted to repurpose that gas and produce something new. Our minds turned to the process of photosynthesis in which water and carbon dioxide contribute to building organic matter so we wanted to find a product that we could grow easily and then sell to consumers. This is when we came across the algae species, Arthrospira maxima and Arthrospira platensis more commonly known as Spirulina.

Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima) contains 55-70% protein by dry weight, as well as high amino acid content and nutrients. It grows best in environments with high CO2 concentrations, a high pH, and high temperatures.

Spirulina are a globally cultivated algae species for food production because of their high protein content and nutritional value. We decided that the nutritious algae would be an excellent food product to sell as our business product and the only thing left to decide was how to grow the spirulina. We decided that the best way to grow them and incorporate the compost would be to use a photobioreactor which is a closed system that would allow us to control the inputs and outputs of the spirulina growth mixture. We could also take the CO2 from an industrial composter like SCRAPPY and feed it into our photobioreactor to cultivate the spirulina.

A photobioreactor is a device that cultivates photosynthetic organisms in a closed system. The benefits of using this device is the ability to control both the inputs and outputs of the system with a decreased risk of contamination.

After settling on an idea, my team had to settle on a company name and company roles. The members of my team were myself as the Chief Technological Officer, Jivahn Moradian ‘20 as the Chief Financial Officer, and Gabby D’Arcangelo ‘21 as the Chief Executive Officer. When deciding on a name we wanted something that represented both the algae and the use of carbon dioxide from the composter. So the name we settled on was AlgaeHG or AlGHG. The GHG in the title is short for Greenhouse gases which we are using to create our product in the form of CO2.

Though the company was created for a class project, the three of us had quite a fun time brainstorming the science, engineering, finances, and algae puns for our little class project. And we were thankful to Gina and the S.C.R.A.P. Lab for letting Gabby and Jivahn visit the Lab during my shift, and for all of the other assistance, we were able to receive. 

Gabby D’Arcangelo ‘21, Wesley Wiggins ’21, and Jivahn Moradian ‘20 (from left to right) presenting the AlgaeHG business pitch and presentation in ENE321: Resource Recovery for a Circular Economy.
Photo Credits: Professor Z. Jason Ren

The ComPOSTer: Alum Profile – Milan Eldridge ’20

Happy dog days of summer everyone,

In about a month, classes at Princeton will resume, but before we head into the new academic year, the ComPOSTer caught up with one of the S.C.R.A.P Lab’s most recent alumni – Milan Eldridge ’20!

Although relatively new to the team, Milan was a fast learner whose passion for sustainable living made her an invaluable and dedicated assistant who took on multiple shifts even during her last semester at Princeton. Read more about Milan’s experience working at the S.C.R.A.P. Lab in her own words below:

I started working at the S.C.R.A.P. Lab at the beginning of my spring semester during my senior year. After becoming more involved with sustainability on campus, I wanted to continue to explore ways that I could be involved with sustainability within the campus community. I also wanted to learn more about sustainability on a larger scale so that I could carry what I had learned with me after graduation.

During my time on campus, I had seen the university change the company through which they composted. All of a sudden, we weren’t allowed to compost everything we had previously been allowed to compost in the dining halls. Soon, after spending some time in the Frist Late Meal Gallery, I started seeing bins labeled ‘S.C.R.A.P. Lab’. For a long time, I had no clue what the acronym stood for, only that we were meant to put our compost in the bin. After reading more about the S.C.R.A.P. Lab, I thought it would be a great opportunity to expand my knowledge of what the university was doing to combat food waste and help contribute to the goal.

“Sustainability can take many forms and may look different in different places depending on the limitations of each place” Milan Eldridge ’20

While working at the S.C.R.A.P. Lab, I quickly learned that, while the university produces a great deal of food waste, people are willing to do what they can in order to reduce the impact this has on the planet. This ranged from various academic departments keeping compost buckets to student groups like Coffee Club searching for ways to keep their business as sustainable as it could be by searching for a way to compost their used coffee grounds. However, at the same time, there are also people on campus who occasionally get really ecstatic about composting and want to compost everything they receive at late meal, down to the utensils and plastic condiment cups.

Nevertheless, I believe that the Office of Sustainability has been doing a great job on campus in order to educate students about what they can do to live more sustainable lives. I have learned that sustainability can take many forms and may look different in different places depending on the limitations of each place. For example, some products that are marketed as compostable aren’t always easily converted into soil by our composting system and it takes time, dedication, and patience in order to ensure that every member of a community understands the limitations that may be present. All in all, I have learned lessons that I believe will be extremely beneficial in the future as I continue to integrate sustainability into my living habits and encourage others to do the same. 

We wish Milan the best of luck in her future endeavors!

Next week, we will hear from one of our long-standing team members, Wesley Wiggins ’21. Wesley will be the ComPOSTer’s resident blog writer for the next several weeks during which he will use his operational expertise to provide insightful updates on all of the exciting coursework and research happening around the project through our Campus as Lab program.

The ComPOSTer: Juneteenth Reflections

Good morning ComPOSTer subscribers,

Yesterday, July 19th, Princeton University offered all faculty and staff a fully paid day off to recognize the significance of Juneteenth – the day 155 years ago when the last enslaved African Americans in the country learned of their freedom – and to provide space to contemplate how we can all do our part to eliminate structural and overt racism and other forms of discrimination on our campus, in our communities, and in our country.

As such, this post aims to raise awareness about how waste management and the larger food system have contributed to racial injustice and how composting can be a part of the solution to achieve a more equitable society.

The sustainability movement is not complete without racial equity

Along with violence and police brutality, the food system is another, yet under-acknowledged, area in which systemic racism against Black people exist. From the allocation of farm subsidies and marketing of fast food, to the siting of waste disposal facilities, the U.S. food system has economically discriminated against Black communities while unequally exposing them to environmental harms and diet-related diseases.

According to Black food justice leaders, the solutions to eliminate food system inequities are not solely a matter of access or education, but rather that of poverty alleviation. Funneling capital into Black communities and allowing the people to own their own land and businesses will provide Black people with the financial stability and empowerment to grow and consume accessible, affordable and nutritious food.

How does composting fit into the equation?

First off, it is important to note that indigenous people and African Americans, such as early civil rights figure, George Washington Carver, knew about the importance of composting and using compost to promote sustainable agriculture practices long before the organic farming movement became popularized by the Rodale Institute in the mid-1900’s.

That point aside, composting uneaten food at a local scale not only diverts material away from landfills or incinerators (which have been disproportionally sited near low-income and minority communities), but provides a soil amendment to support community food-growing operations, while also offering other benefits such as job creation, stormwater management, and more.

Shown below is a photo of Leah Penniman (far left) leading a youth group in maintaining a compost pile at Soul Fire Farm. Leah is one of the aforementioned food justice pioneers, and co-founded Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY with the intent of ending racism and injustice in the food system by reconnecting people of color to the land on their own terms.

Photo credit: OMD blog

To learn more about the intersection of food and/or composting, health, and race, see below for recommended readings:

Why Food Belongs in Our Discussions of Race 

The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities

Farming While Black

The ComPOSTer: SCRAPPY on the move; National Learn about Composting Day

The month of May began with a week-long celebration of International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW) and now it comes to a near end with

National Learn about Composting Day!

During ICAW, we highlighted 5 composting facts, but for a deeper dive into the benefits of composting, check out this series of infographics developed by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

S.C.R.A.P. Lab Updates

Phase 1 of the S.C.R.A.P. Lab facility relocation began earlier this week when “SCRAPPY” was dismantled and transported to a temporary storage location. SCRAPPY will remain there until our new permanent location is finalized and the facility is reconstructed. We will post more updates here, but in the meantime, check out a few photos from the move which took about half a day:

Dismantling the screw conveyor auger
SCRAPPY being rolled out on a wooden “sled”
Two forklifts raise the composting system onto the flatbed truck
All parts of the composting system are strapped securely to the flatbed
The flatbed arrives at the storage site and the forklifts are back to lift SCRAPPY off of the truck
SCRAPPY stored safely in the storage barn