Greenway Environmental Services has collected and composted nearly seven million pounds of local food waste since 2006, diverting from the environment 3,500 tons of organic material that would otherwise have been burned or buried. “Think about the impact that has on the carbon that’s removed from the environment and the fertility that’s returned to the soil,” observes Josephine Papagni, co-owner with Shabazz Jackson of the business he founded 20 years ago. The compost they produce from local waste “basically closes the loop,” she says, sending the product back out into the gardens and farms in the community it originated from. “You hear a lot about farm-to-table, but this is farm-to-table and back again.”
Until now, Greenway Environmental Services (GES) has focused on providing compost and topsoil for urban, community and school gardens. Bard College Farm was started with GES compost, and the product was used to restore Stonykill Community Gardens in Beacon after Tropical Storm Irene. And thousands of elementary school children in five Mid-Hudson districts use GES topsoil and compost in their school gardens.
Next month, the company will open their doors to the public. The Greenway Zero Waste Education and Composting Research Facility at Hurd’s Farm, 205 Hurds Road in Clintondale, will host a grand opening on Saturday, April 15 from 8 a.m. to noon. Free samples of Greenway’s weed-free compost, garden soil, topsoil and apple wood mulch will be available.
The composting company leases three acres on Hurd’s apple farm. The businesses are independent of each other, but they do have a common interest.
For the Hurd family, as full-time farmers, it doesn’t make economic sense for them to take on the time-consuming process of composting themselves, says Charles Hurd. But with the space available on the property, in an area that’s appropriate, he adds, GES, with their existing expertise, “brings different experiences into the mix, and people to bounce ideas off of. We come out with different points of view and develop ideas that bring returns back to the farm.”
From Greenway’s point of view, locating their business on an apple farm gives them the opportunity to study the results of using compost on apples. “If you go through the literature, there is a lot of information on using compost on grapes and other fruit, but nothing that I know of on apples,” says Jackson. “The soil in these apple orchards is so specific, it will allow us to figure out the application rate for compost on apples, and if we can figure that out here, we can market that to other farmers.”
The Greenway facility is a carbon-offset facility. “Each pound of waste we take in offsets two pounds of carbon. We have to quantify these numbers for our permits, so we have a record. So when we talk about taking in seven million pounds of food waste, we have offset 14 million pounds of carbon, more than offsetting the amount of carbon this entire farm uses through electricity, diesel fuel and fertilizer. The modern apple farm has become very energy intensive, because of the coolers and equipment, and you combine all that and it’s something that has become the challenge of our times: How can you take an industry and make it carbon-neutral? And what can you do to make it work year after year and do it cost effectively?”
Jackson, who grew up in Beacon, began his career in composting in 1976, after consulting work he did for urban garden planners showed him the necessity of having the materials readily available. Composting appealed to him on a number of levels. “It’s exciting,” he says. “The conversion of one thing to another just always attracted me personally. It’s control of resources, and I have a degree in economics with a minor in biology and chemistry, so it was a way to apply everything that I knew. And then, no matter how much I studied it, I saw that I could never know everything. So it’s that, but also, the product itself is so important.”
Monroe-native Papagni, on the other hand, had no background in the business until she came into it in 1999, composting at Vassar Farm in Poughkeepsie, where the couple developed a line of products, a rapid composting system and a bio-filtration system to manage run-off.
“I was converted, basically!” she says. “I really didn’t understand the benefit of the product at first, but once I learned how to operate the equipment and do the work, and saw this material that is the end result of composting — and it takes about a year — it was remarkable, seeing what this material can do, what it can grow. Now, I certainly do feel the same way as Shabazz. It’s a little bit of magic, the way it works. He would say biology, but I call it magic! And it’s magical to see it happening.”
Down the road, Papagni’s vision for GES is to increase the local participation, both in collecting waste and using the resulting compost in the local landscape. “And we encourage homeowners to do backyard composting,” she adds. “There are so many methods and they’re easy and effective.”
Jackson’s goal is to open 35 satellite facilities for composting, something he says they could support now.
The two will speak at the Dutchess County Community College Urban Farming Symposium on Saturday, April 8 on the topic of using on-site storm water to grow food. On Wednesday, April 26, they will tour visitors through a commercial on-site storm water management system they designed and constructed at NuGreen Nursery in Poughkeepsie. Times and locations for these and several other events are on the website at greenwayny.com.