Final Report on USDA funded section of the RI Compost Initiative

Final Report on USDA funded section of the RI Compost Initiative

Final Report on USDA funded section of the RI Compost Initiative

It is like ancient history to remember meeting with Sarah Kite on Valley St in December 2008.  We started talking compost, and I was hoping RIRRC would be a willing participant in sparking the compost industry in RI.  The USDA had promised the grant, but the long wait for the wheels of the federal bureaucracy to grind forward and start funding the work was just beginning.  But there were some reserves to draw on, so I plunged in.  Eventually the federal wheel moved and three years of funding flowed.  The first 6 months I accumulated knowledge and made connections. From the beginning the city of Providence wanted to be a part of the action.  I tried so hard to accommodate them that occasionally the project would slow down while I waited for them to move or answer.  I learned to keep moving and have multiple strands moving while waiting for the laggards.

Every day I worked on the project I had to figure out what needed doing next and invent and imagine the way forward.  Katherine Brown provided wonderful mentoring.   The periods when there were partners available, things often moved faster, and in more different sectors, than the times when I was working alone.  I had to wait occasionally for things to find me before moving forward, but by being open to the possibilities and knowing to wait, they always did, and often as soon as I was actually ready for them to find me. It became a matter of learning enough so that when something was ready to flow by, I was positioned to catch it.

I barked up a lot of empty trees, as well as some with fruit, willing to work with every entrepreneur that come through with an idea for a business.  I learned much each time one came through, and I hope they enjoyed working with me. I provided all the information and connections I could and think something positive from each encounter that has endured in the Initiative and the industry.

The first spring I took the Master Composters Class at the URI botanical center in Roger Williams Park.   Great program, and Sejal Lanterman is a great ambassador for compost.   After 25 years of composting, I became a much better and more knowledgeable composter.  I had always been a little lazy because I was cleaning barns and taking shares of the manure to compost at home, so I did not have to be very diligent.  Here in the city I needed better technique. It shows in my home composting operation. I have now added some MORPHs to the repertoire and continue upgrading. Standing on actual composting experience and learning new techniques gave the initiative more credibiility.

The compost initiative went public when putting on the first RI compost conference in January 2010 at the Rhode Island Foundation.  More than 50 people attended and I spent months after that following up with folks around the state to see if their idea for compost in their community could be fanned into flames.  I spent time on several initiatives on Aquidneck Island, none of which have quite panned out yet, but likely will eventually.  We tried various kinds of committees.  What worked, what moved things forward, were alliances between the various folks actually doing something in the compost industry, whether it be technology, or facilities.  We still work together where we can, and have expanded that cadre.  The EPA offered some help and began providing information and helping connect resources.

The March 2011 RI Compost conference attracted more than 200 people to RISD.  To prepare myself and the community for the conference I distributed the following document  http://www.environmentcouncilri.org/pdf/CompostRI.pdf Again I pursued a variety of initiatives coming out of the conference.  The results were again the folks actually doing stuff remain in communication after the initial shakeout, and the rest of the community is more informed and will be more ready to act when events line up.

Where we are  today is that Orbit Energy is in the permitting stage of developing an anaerobic digester to turn commercial food scrap from this region into green electricity and pelletized fertilizer for the industrial park adjacent tot he landfill in Johnston.  Brown and RISD are again composting in conjunction with Michael Bradlee and the MORPH. ECORI has been collecting compostables at farmers markets and getting it composted by local farmers.  Local haulers are investing in compost. Businesses and communities are discussing what to do and will it save them money and help economic development.  Johnson and Wales University is pondering how to mainstream compost in the hospitality and culinary curriculums. The EPA has a draft document designed to help New England communities develop a system to compost their food scrap. The need for compost expands.

On February 27 2012 the RI Compost Conference and Trade show take place at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, appropriately moving the conference to a private sector facility and turning it into an event that will support the work nurturing the industry done by the Compost Initiative.  I would say it was $30000 over three years well spent and achieved the desired results, even if the supply of compost for the expanding community garden system is still not settled.

The Grant is over, the work goes on. It has been a great 3 years, and I look forward to more.

Greg Gerritt  11/12/11

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