by Andee Bingham
Lisa Ransom and Scott Baughman made their home on 40 acres of land in Moretown, VT (just outside of Waterbury) in 1998. Their property, which abuts the town landfill, gave them a unique and alarming perspective on waste. As they watched the landfill grow, they knew they had to make a choice about whether to passively watch or actively do something to counteract it. In 2009, with the landfill in mind, the concept of GROW (Green Mountain Reclaimed Organic Waste) Compost was born.
As we sat in the dining room of their cozy home, drinking tea and getting nuzzled by two sweet and curly-haired dogs, I was struck by the trays of vibrant green thriving seedlings, sprouting heartily out of compost produced on that very land in tall dark mounds visible from the window. As she placed a basket of warm scones on the table in front of us, Lisa talked tenderly about their commitment to the community. “Our real goal,” she says, “was to do something good for our neighbors and the world.” This dedication and care is clear in the transparent and open way they have communicated with their community from the very beginning, with ongoing conversations and an open invitation for their neighbors to see for themselves how their business works.
Perhaps you compost your kitchen scraps at home and are already familiar with the process of how your apple cores and lawn clippings break down over the months to make soil for your garden. Composting on a larger scale, however, is more labor intensive. Scott picks up 80% of the scraps himself, from farms and businesses within a twenty-mile radius, gathering not only food waste but also tree clippings, coffee chaff (hulls that are a byproduct of roasting), hay, and manure. Being so involved in what gets loaded into his truck allows him to be extra particular, which is crucial because everything that goes into GROW’s compost is chosen for its quality and nutrient value. Composting requires a careful balance of carbon (leaves, hay, wood chips, etc.) and nitrogen (food scraps, coffee grounds, etc.) in order to break down effectively into a rich soil. “It’s kind of like making a cake,” Scott says of mixing the components with a specific recipe. Because of the many variables that come with the territory of scrap collection, Lisa and Scott keep detailed records of what goes into each batch. This helps ensure quality and accountability, as well as helping them learn what works and what doesn’t. Walking the land, it’s easy to imagine the hard and dirty work that goes into transforming table scraps and hay into dark rich soil. After the batch is mixed, it is laid out into a long mound called a windrow, which gets regularly aerated and temperature monitored. The windrows can rise to 140-170 degrees for several weeks, which kills weed seeds and pathogens while maintaining helpful microbes. These windrows, which reduce by 40% as the components break down, cure for an entire year before fully breaking down into the nutrient-rich compost that is ready for your garden.
Though they are newly into their second season, they have exciting plans for the future, including an Aerated Static Pile and thermal recovery systems to be installed this summer. These systems will allow them to produce their compost in less time without compromising quality, while also decreasing fuel use. They also have plans to install a greenhouse in the fall to allow for year-round growing and soil testing.
The Co-op has exciting plans involving GROW Compost too. Starting this spring, we will sell their compost in bulk! Bring your own container, or buy a GROW bag that is made from recycled materials and fill it with as much or as little high-grade compost as you need to nourish your plants and gardens.
Stop by the Co-op between 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Friday, April 20th to get your hands dirty (or just observe) and learn how to keep your garden GROW-ing strong.