Up to 40 percent of the food we grow in the United States is wasted. Eileen Banyra and many others cite this important and dismaying statistic.
Banyra has been making a measurable difference in changing this statistic through her Hudson Valley-based business, Community Compost Company. Feeling that her career in environmental and city planning — one of purpose but requiring way too many meetings – had run its course, Banyra asked herself what the next thing would be. After much exploring, she decided she wanted to focus on what she felt was a calling, and founded Community Compost Company.
The business that Banyra started in 2013 and has nurtured ever since is marking its tenth anniversary, and is poised for the next steps of its growth. Community Compost, located locally on Route 209 in Kerhonkson, generated $600,000 in revenue last year. It has assembled a small team of full- and part-time community composters.
According to its website, the company has composted more than 6.3 million pounds of food scraps.
From table to farm
Community Compost’s core premises remain simple: Make composting easy and accessible to everyone, from residents to businesses and institutions to communities. Divert food waste from landfills. Process the food scraps into high-quality compost. Return this compost to the soil through varied products.
Compost restores nutrients to soil, enhances its health and structure, and fosters healthier plants. Soil that is healthier aids human health and the planet.
Composting food scraps benefits the climate significantly: Organic waste decomposing in landfills generates greenhouse gas methane, which is 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Banyra sees her company’s mission as bringing a systems approach that restores the table-to-farm portion of the cycle that begins with farm-to-table.
The company makes several compost products through a separate division it established in 2016, Hudson Soil Co., which sells finished compost and related offerings in bags and bulk. Worm Castings, a nutrient-packed soil amendment with beneficial microbes produced through a separate vermicompost (worm composting) ecosystem setup at its facility, is one of these related offerings.
Retail outlets for Hudson Soil Co.’s items include Wallkill View Farm, Hudson Valley Seed Company, Catskill Native Nursery, and 16 Whole Foods locations in the Hudson Valley, New York City, and New Jersey.
Community Compost Company’s operations stretch from North Jersey to the Hudson Valley. The endeavor began at farmers’ markets with buckets for composting. Banyra first concentrated in Hoboken and Jersey City, two municipalities she sensed would be receptive to composting.
The company now has varied ways for food-scrap collection. There are pick-up services with various subscription plans for residences, businesses, and institutions. There are subscription-based drop-off spots in community locations like Kingston and municipal drop-off collections such as in Saugerties, Marbletown, Union City, N.J., Hoboken, and Jersey City. The company’s trucks run five days a week, transporting food scraps to the compost-processing facility in Kerhonkson.
From pile to pile
An examination of the composting operation on the 1.5-acre site, with director of operations Molly Lindsay explaining the process, is illuminating.
The company uses the aerated static pile (ASP) method of composting. One can follow this process in an evolving number of piles taking up the space of about half a football field, alongside specialized equipment. Each step (and pile) helps turns food scraps into fine nutrient-rich compost that feels almost silky to the touch.
It all starts with an initial pile. The company’s composters make a new pile of food scraps once a week. Food scraps are combined with organic materials such as wood chips, leaves, and horse manure. The company uses high-quality organic materials. Its compost is certified for organic use by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York.
As Lindsay notes, there are many ways to compost. The compost is going to gardeners, nurseries, garden centers, other retail outlets, and farms. “Farmers depend upon this quality in their livelihoods,” says Lindsay, who has been with the company since 2014.
The next step involves moving the mixed organic materials to an aerated static pile. This process places the mixture on aerated pipes, a system that delivers oxygen that aids in decomposition. This mixture goes on the aerated pipes for approximately 30 days. During the hot-composting phase, compost piles can get as high as 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature typically runs between 130 and 140 degrees, which killsoff potential pathogens.
The pile that has been on the aerated pipes is then moved to another area for the remainder of compost processing, which involves sifting the cured mixture, measuring its temperature over the subsequent days, and turning the material based on the temperature.
The entire composting process takes from seven to ten months, according to Banyra.
It’s all about the Earth
The lack of attention to what happens to food scraps, Banyra says, is a consequence of a society where many people are detached from the outdoors. She believes that educating people about the value of diverting food waste into composting is vital. In essence, it’s food recycling. Her company focuses significant efforts on educating the public and seeking to make composting accessible and affordable.
Banyra has been interested in gardening and soil since she was an eight-year-old child reading Organic Gardening magazine. Her health-oriented mother never bought white bread, and eschewed store-bought cookies, opting instead to bake homemade versions.
When casting about for a new direction, Banyra did not immediately hit upon the composting business. It took a while. A drawing workshop brought her clarity. “It was all about the Earth,” Banyra found.
As she launched the business, she did research and examined what companies such as Compost Cab and Bootstrap Compost were doing.
Why is soil so crucial? For Banyra, decades of environmental work, awareness, and a keen passion built her knowledge and understanding of its importance. Intensive industrial-level farming – for example, the use of synthetic fertilizers – has prompted an increasingly severe depletion of soil nutrients. Amending soil with compost promotes the growth of beneficial organisms in soil. It also helps soil retain moisture levels.
Bigger things ahead
Just as new plants benefit from healthy soil, new entrepreneurs are much more likely to thrive with support and guidance from others. In Banyra’s case, after a couple of years of getting her business rolling, she had ended up with a sprawling, somewhat unwieldy business, She found support, grounding, and guidance from the Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship Network (GCSEN). Banyra has had support from GCSEN and its founder and CEO, Mike Caslin, as she has developed and grown the business over the past seven years. GCSEN featured Banyra and Community Compost in a blog post earlier this year, detailing its positive results and future objectives.
As Community Compost Company marks its tenth anniversary, Banyra is seeking to scale up the business. To do more, her business needs a larger site. Banyra envisions establishing a compost hub and “spoke micro-composting centers” in the region that Community Compost serves. Currently, the company’s trucks travel to Ulster County from North Jersey. For a more climate-friendly, efficient operation, she wants to reduce the trucking distances.
These are promising times that demand bigger things, in Banyra’s view. She and her team are poised to scale up to take advantage of new composting laws in New York and New Jersey. The climate crisis has become even more urgent than when she conceived Community Compost Company. For Banyra and her company, the response remains to have a positive impact on climate change by diverting food scraps from landfills and by converting organic waste into compost to help restore the Earth’s soils from the ground up.