Celebrating “Compost Day” at the Raleigh Downtown Farmers Market probably doesn’t sound quite as appealing as scoring a gourmet grilled cheese on its “Cheese Please” day, but it should rank as more important to your stomach.1

Why?

All that food you love to eat takes stuff, in addition to farmers, water, sunlight and soil, to grow. That stuff can either be chemical—think fertilizer in those unnatural-shade-of-green round pellets—or natural. Natural = compost. Which sounds more appealing?

Compost is the end result of organic waste—meaning once-living; not just in the way we think of organic fruits and veggies—after a biological process breaks it down. Most studies claim that food waste is around 40% of what we Americans toss in the landfill, eating up valuable space (who wants to build new landfills?) while increasing methane production (bad for the atmosphere, great for fueling heat waves) and the potential for garbage leakage into water sources (yuck).

Each week patrons can “recycle” their food scraps and non-recyclable paper and biodegradable containers into compost at the Raleigh Downtown Farmers Market on City Plaza, thanks to CompostNow. July 23’s Compost Day takes that a step further: between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. you’ll have a chance to dig in and understand how you can help connect the dots between Raleigh restaurants, farms and the compost that “feeds your food.” Shoppers will be encouraged to pick up a postcard and drop it at their favorite restaurant to spread the word on just how easy it is to start composting.

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It starts with RaleighComposts.com, a listing of local organizations, mostly restaurants, that are dedicated to diverting at least some of their organic waste away from the dump and into a compost bin. Commitments range from collecting food scraps from the prep station in back-of-the-house operations to the full-blown separation of all waste into recycling, composting and as a last resort, trash.

If you’re aware of home composting protocol, you know that meat and dairy are a no-go, but commercial composting facilities can take it all—even bones, fats and greasy pizza boxes, plus labeled compostable containers and serveware that mimic plastic but are made of biodegradable elements.

Raleigh Composts

In addition to visiting the website, watch for the “Raleigh Composts” window sticker congratulating participating Raleigh businesses; any company can provide a receptacle for compostable content in break rooms or cafeterias.

According to Anya Gordon, co-owner of Irregardless Cafe & Catering, composting fits well within their overall sustainability philosophy of “business behavior that has as little impact on the environment as possible.” Irregardless takes all kitchen vegetable cuttings and peelings to the Cafe’s Well Fed Community Garden compost pile, which is perfect for growing vegetables during the next season. But it’s not all about food: composting minimizes the waste produced by the kitchen, reducing the Cafe’s garbage removal costs. Gordon summed it up well, saying that “composting is ‘win-win’ behavior that supports the cycle of all of life’s interdependence.”

Local Raleigh business Happy+Hale’s pulp from juicing, plus its fruit and vegetable rinds and cuttings, go mostly to urban farmer Maurice Small. Co-owner Matt Whitley talked about Small scooping up a handful of compost and describing it as “gold” while thanking them for their donations. “From a food perspective, we need to complete the circle. Buying local doesn’t matter if the soil doesn’t have the right nutrients,” Whitley explained.

Even though Happy+Hale’s compostable bowls and forks are significantly more expensive than their Styrofoam or plastic counterparts, Whitley feels strongly that they are the right choice for their business. “We need to realize that we are all part of the system, and that our dollars are our votes on how that system should work. Trash doesn’t disappear when it goes to the landfill; it’s still there for a very long time.”

Whitley’s last thought tied in to exactly why the Raleigh Composts campaign is important: “We might be doing the right thing, but we also need to expand our reach, sharing that story and that knowledge with others.”

All those efforts, small or large, add up. What once was considered trash can now be converted into an organic soil amendment perfect for feeding your food. Including grilled cheese sandwiches.

Image: CompostNow.org

 

  1. If you really want that grilled cheese, stop by on August 13.
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