February 11, 2023
Last week, David White closed the books on a grant-funded composting initiative, ending a two-year program based in the Ojai Valley which served schools and community gardens in several local cities.
As executive director of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture, using funds from CalRecycle — the California Department of Resource Recycling and Recovery — White administered projects to promote organic material recycling.
These projects included development of school gardens, improvements to community gardens and fruit tree plantings. His compost workshops benefitted even experienced gardeners, such as Linda Steis, past president and current secretary of the Ojai Valley Garden Club, who said: “He solved problems for composters and we learned important details, like the danger of using excessive citrus in a (compost) pile.”
Perhaps the most visible and innovative program was the “Cycling Compost Collective,” using a bicycle to collect food scraps from homes and businesses for composting in a garden behind Ojai City Hall. White has moved on to work with Once Upon a Watershed, a project of the nonprofit CREW organization focusing on elementary school environmental education in partnership with local school districts, cities and the county of Ventura.
Camila Guzman, who operated the bicycle collection program and maintained the compost piles, now operates a community compost co-op called “Queen of Compost,” a nickname she has had since operating a compost program while a student at CSU Channel Islands. Through her website, queenofcompost.com, she is accepting new memberships in a compost hub and hoping to open additional hubs.
Through compost hubs, members have access to locked compost sites or bins, dropping off their food scraps and assisting with pile maintenance. To have access, membership agreements include volunteer commitments or donations. Guzman currently oversees three bins at the Cornucopia Garden in Ventura, four in downtown Ventura and five bins and windrows in the demonstration garden behind Ojai City Hall. Over 150 households bring food scraps to these sites, but Guzman no longer provides collection. Through exclusive contracts between cities and trash collection companies, only those companies may legally charge for hauling, so the grant expiration ended the collection route.
Guzman’s community hubs have, since 2019, diverted more than 45,000 pounds of food waste from local landfills, her website says. By comparison, a large commercial company might recycle that amount in a day.
However, there are significant differences between small-scale community composting and large-scale publicly contracted operations. Community-based projects cut hauling distances. Participants use their own community’s compost, and people managing their own discards often increase their commitment beyond correct sorting.
That often involves gardening, which brings additional benefits.
Carol Vesecky, community garden director at St. Andrews Episcopal Church of Ojai, offers composting advice during her regular volunteer hours at the garden, from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
“The compost helps the plants to grow and feed the needy,” Vesecky said. Food is harvested Saturdays, blessed on Sundays and distributed on Mondays through HELP of Ojai.
Guzman also demonstrated backyard composting and vermiculture recently at the Camarillo Public Library, using a live worm bin that can turn food scraps into a valuable soil amendment. Vermiculture is especially good for families with kids, she said, because composting with worms is a fun way for children to see a natural process and get involved in recycling and gardening.
Local schools have also found composting, and vermiculture in particular, to be a useful educational tool.
The One Spark Academy, for example, a home-school learning center, maintains a plot with composting systems at the Las Flores Community Garden in Thousand Oaks. Educator Laura Holt-Erlig says her students are also starting a vermiculture system at the site One Spark uses at the Conejo Valley YMCA on Moorpark Road.
Community-based composting has many benefits and local projects provide opportunities for involvement.
David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.