Weatherbury Farm in Avella,
As the bumper sticker reads "compost happens." It sure does! The magical microbial breakdown
process will happen regardless of particle size, moisture content, greens and browns ratio, number
of turns, or temperature reads. And while a thoughtful recipe and diligent execution will make
beautiful and speedy compost, such meticulous monitoring often requires far too much labor for the
small-scale production farmer. Food waste inevitably accumulates and the common kludge
approach of stashing it in an unmonitored, far removed corner of the property will result in a
sloppy anaerobic mess...not to mention make for a very welcoming rodent habitat. There are a variety
of compost turning
on the market, but starting costs often begin at $30,000. So what do you do if
you’re farming at production scale but don’t have the implement for making your own compost?
The most common answer I received when asking small production scale produce farmers what they do
was… “feed it to the pigs!” A convenient solution, but not without a catch, as pigs will also
require some dietary supplementation. Alex Vaughn, of The Farm School
that pigs will virtually eat everything, likely making this the easiest strategy if animals are
already in your system. However, “it's not really feasible to recover that material in the form of
usable manure” Alex identifies. Not to mention that when manure is involved you’ll have to make sure
organic, which is no easy feat.
For those interested in a lower cost mechanical compost turner, Nigel Tudor of Weatherbury Farm
has shared the plans
he constructed to build your own for about $12,500 if you have
hydrostatic drive, the proper tools, and ample time.
Another creative option is to use a manure spreader to shred, mix, and aerate a pile. “The Soul of Soil
Grace Gershuny and Joe Smillie, discusses this technique while noting that although it’s relatively
easy, it does take some time to master. Essentially, piles of material are placed parallel to the
projected windrow location. With the manure spreader running, a bucket loader dumps appropriate
proportions of each material into the spreader. As material exits the spreader and begins to pile
up, the manure spreader inches forward. This process is repeated until the material is used up and
the windrow complete. Gershuny and Smillie note that “while this is not an unnatural job for the
manure spreader, it is intensive, so lots of grease and oil should be used on the chains and gears”
An even more accessible alternative is to use a bucket loader for all steps. Your pile is likely to
be on the sloppy side and may not progress quite as quickly, but as we know...compost happens. This
is one of the methods used at The Farm School, where Alex says he turns the pile about once a month
with the bucket loader. You can avoid an anaerobic mess, “if you have enough hay or straw to cover
the packing shed material...or mix it around” each time you add food scraps to the pile. Increased
aeration can be achieved by a bucket that also has long teeth.
What do you do?
There seems to be a bit of a compost conundrum for the diversified production farmer. While options
for addressing food scraps do exist, they all require a notable amount of time and/or money.
I’m curious as to what you do with food scraps that accumulate in your farm system:
How much do you accumulate? And, are there ways to reduce waste accumulation?
How often do you add to your pile or get rid of the collection?
Are there ways for local small farms to collaborate on this in a time effective way?
Share your techniques and questions in the comments section below!
Gershuny, Grace, and Joseph Smillie. The Soul of Soil: A Soil-building Guide for Master
Gardeners and Farmers. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Pub., 1999. Print.
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Jane works as a Field Production Specialist at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable
Food Systems, where her days are filled with tractor work, irrigation coordination, orchard
care, and educating apprentices and interns. Her favorite way to end a long day's work in
the sun, is running down the hill to Mitchell's Cove and jumping in the Pacific.