When the weekly Woodstock Farm Festival starts back up on Wednesday, May 31, people will be invited to drop off their household compost, reducing the burden on landfills and contributing to the creation of lush dirt to nourish garden plants. The women of Woodstock Organic Waste (WOW), an independent working group of Woodstock Transition, have been working for over three years on the compost conundrum — how to get people and restaurants involved in recycling food waste. WOW has been assisted by a young farming couple, Lala Montoya and Jared Williams.
“We used to have our compost pile far away from the house,” said Montoya, standing in the garden at the couple’s permaculture homestead in West Saugerties. “But since we moved the compost to the middle of the garden, we get fewer wild animals going through it, because the dog keeps them away. We cover it with hay and dirt so it doesn’t smell.” When the rain washes out nutrients, all that good stuff goes straight to the vegetables.
The farm will provide a place to compost the food waste collected at the Wednesday farmers markets, held at Mower’s field on Maple Lane, in the heart of Woodstock. Montoya and Williams will furnish one-gallon and five-gallon buckets that people can take home to store their food scraps — including meat — and bring them to the farm festival. (Scraps can also be transported in bags, but the bags cannot go into the compost.) WOW members Jo Yanow-Schwartz and Jess Lunt hope to recruit volunteers to help them monitor the collection bins and make sure the compostables stay separate from the trash and recyclables.
Last year, the WOW women convinced almost all the festival food vendors to convert to biodegradable plates and cutlery, which volunteers brought to the compost dumpster at Bread Alone’s Lake Katrine café, with the permission of the café owners. The café participates in the composting program of the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency (UCRRA) in Kingston, which has a state-of-the-art organics recovery facility. Recycling coordinator Merlin Akhtar said restaurants, schools, bakeries, and other larger quantity generators bring in materials by truck or hire a waste hauler. UCRRA requires a minimum of 25 pounds, weighed on a truck scale and charged at a rate of $20 per ton. Finished compost is sold to nurseries or landscapers at $30 per ton, the equivalent of two cubic yards, which fills the back of a pickup truck. Sometimes home gardeners get together to buy a load of compost.
WOW’s initial goal was to convince restaurants to recycle food scraps for composting in Kingston. According to their research, over 40 millions pounds of food waste generated annually in Ulster County are trucked 250 miles to a landfill near Syracuse. Food decomposing in the landfill produces methane gas, a major contributor to climate change, estimated to be 21 times more heating to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. And landfills will eventually run out of space.
With the UCRRA operating an industrial-grade composting facility, it seems logical to collect compostables from Woodstock restaurants and deliver them to Kingston. The biggest stumbling block has been transportation. The economy of scale for Woodstock compost pick-up has not appealed to local trash haulers. Two potential start-ups expressed interest in taking on compost hauling, but both ventures fell through.
Williams and Montoya wrote a letter to in March of 2016, inviting homeowners and restaurateurs to contribute food scraps to their composting project. Sunflower Natural Foods Market, the Garden Café, Reynolds & Reynolds Taproom, and three individuals jumped on board. The farmers pick up food waste twice a week from the Woodstock businesses and use the compost they produce to start seedlings, many of which they give away at community events hosted by the Saugerties-based Long Spoon Collective. If the farm can produce enough compost, any excess will be donated to gardeners. Meanwhile, all the produce grown is kept for their family or distributed at Long Spoon food-sharing gatherings.
Although WOW has not yet solved the transportation problem, their composting projects continue. They have received support from the Woodstock Environmental Commission, and before his death, town supervisor Jeremy Wilber gave his blessing to composting food scraps from any event sponsored by the town. WOW has collected food waste from the town’s Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and one summer, they took away compostables from the summer recreation program.
To Montoya, composting locally is preferable to trucking scraps to Kingston, which involves more use of fossil fuels. “I love keeping it in the community,” she said. “People are more engaged.” She wishes they could take more food from restaurants, but with a ten-month-old baby, the farm, and their community work, they don’t have time for a larger-scale operation. She added, “I hope more people who are passionate about composting can take on their own projects.”