Composting At The Crossroads

July 16, 2008

Two months ago I sent an email to Anton heimpel, owner/operator of At The Crossroads Family Restaurant (often referred to simply as ‘Crossroads’) to see if he was interested in providing me with some coffee grounds and egg carton cardboard (excellent fodder for worm composting systems). Given the huge popularity of the restaurant I suspected they would have lots of both, and might not mind sharing some of them.

I received a friendly response back, and as it turns out Anton had already been starting to think about ways the restaurant could deal with its food waste in a more environmentally-friendly manner, so he was quite eager to sit down and chat about the possibilities.

As I discovered, Crossroads produces hundreds of pounds of fruit and vegetable waste every single week. I have never see so many broccoli stalks and turnip peels and apple waste in my life!

I’ll be honest – initially I was wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. Dealing with two (or more) garbage bins of food waste each day, 6 days a week requires a lot more work than I had initially envisioned. On the plus side, I’ve been able to get outside for gardening work a lot more, and it has been a much needed source of exercise for me this summer. Even more importantly, I’ve been able to prove to myself that it can be done.

Referring to ‘hundreds of pounds’ of waste may sound pretty impressive, but it’s important to keep in mind that these sorts of waste materials are almost entirely water, so they tend to reduce in volume and weight quite quickly, especially in the heat of the summer, and especially when a herd of hungry Red Worms are helping to move the process along.

I’ve been using the materials in various outdoor worm composting systems with great success thus far. I’ve tried multiple ‘composting pits’, and have added LOTS of waste to my big outdoor worm bin, but I have been most impressed with my vermicomposting trench systems. These trenches were dug directly in front of the vegetable garden along my fence, and through the middle of my raised bed garden. The general idea behind this method is that composting worms (and countless other organisms) convert waste materials into nutrients for the plants, not to mention releasing lots of water for them as well. It is essentially like a slow-release organic fertilizer factory.

I’ve absolutely been blown away by the growth of my tomato plants – they are already bigger than the maximum size my plants reached last year – plants that were fed with inorganic tomato fertilizer I might add (I haven’t added ANY this year)! I can’t wait to see how everything looks in a months time.

The Crossroads project has required a huge commitment of time and energy, but I’m really glad I decided to go for it – not only is this helping a local business shrink their environmental footprint, but it has been a great learning experience for me and will hopefully serve to show others what is possible when these “waste” materials are actually put to use, rather than sent off to the landfill!