Too often community composters are viewed as a minor solution to our growing food waste problem. But last month’s 7th National Cultivating Community Composting Forum & Field Day underscored that with adequate investment and institutional support, community composting can scale up to serve an integral and unique role in the broader composting industry.
Community composters keep the process and product as local as possible while engaging the community through participation and education and connecting composting to food security, climate resilience, and racial equity. They are food scrap bike haulers, urban and rural farmers, worker-owned cooperatives, local governments, and more.
ILSR partnered with the US Composting Council (USCC) to hold the Cultivating Community Composting Forum & Field Day as pre-events to the USCC’s annual conference and trade show, COMPOST2023, in Ontario, California. We organized the Forum & Field Day to share best practices and build support for community composting systems and enterprises. Other key partners were local community composters, LA Compost and Food Cycle Collective (FCC). Together they brought more than 20 volunteers to the gathering who facilitated sessions, made presentations, demonstrated DIY systems, and more. Special shout-out to FCC for providing an amazing zero waste and locally sourced lunch and organizing and leading two tours of Inland Empire community composters.
Left: Ontario Convention Center in Ontario, California. Right: Networking table on communications at Monday’s Cultivating Community Composting Forum.
With the USCC, ILSR raised a record-breaking $49,600 in scholarships to offset registration, travel, and lodging expenses for 83 community composters, many of whom hailed from urban areas and chronically marginalized communities. (Thank you to our many sponsors for making this possible!) This investment from USCC as a part of their DEIJ efforts is a promising sign that the larger composting industry is recognizing the value add of the community composting sector.
ILSR’s network of composters brought diversity to the national USCC conference not only in terms of race, gender, and age, but also as smaller-sized, mission-driven operations. In this way, a number of perspectives often sidelined in the national conversation around composting, were given a stronger voice at this year’s conference. One hundred and eight-nine people attended at least one of the community composting events.
“It can often feel overwhelming being at conferences with such massive players. CCC is critical to balance this playing field with small-scale composters who play a vital role in the field.” – Parker Jean, Sanctuary Farms (Detroit, Michigan)
The values, concerns, and mission of community composters had a chance to be heard by the largest audience (over 1,400 attendees!) in USCC conference history. Jamie Blanchard-Poling of Compost Queens called out the demand for medium-sized composting equipment in her acceptance speech for the Small-Scale Composter Manufacturer of the Year Award. Kourtnii Brown from the California Alliance for Community Composting moderated the panel discussion on community composting as a viable strategy to meet regional diversion targets. Renee Wallace of Food PLUS Detroit shared the power of partnerships to build equitable healthy communities and healthy soils. Closing keynote speaker Michael Martinez of LA Compost reminded us to center people and love of community in our work.
To explore other community composters featured in USCC’s programming, check out the 2023 program here.
Left: USCC Executive Director, Frank Franciosi with Jamie Blanchard-Poling of Compost Queens, winner of the USCC’s Small-Scale Composter Manufacturer of the Year Award (Photo credit: USCC), Right: Kourtnii Brown, Executive Director of the California Alliance for Community Composters moderating a panel on California community composting
“The CCC’s presence at the USCC annual conference filled a gap by connecting composters of all types and sizes. Greater representation of community composting put a spotlight on how different missions and models are necessary and relevant for a complete picture and to achieve broader objectives.” – Sandy Briggs, City of Boulder, Colorado
But as important as representation is, community composters also need the space to connect and exchange knowledge with similar operations and like-minded people. This year’s multi-day Cultivating Community Composting gathering involved a full day community composting forum as well as a small-scale equipment field day and a tour of local community composting sites.
Read on for the highlights!
The Monday Forum
One hundred and forty-four folks attended this year’s Forum from 29 states plus the District of Columbia and five other countries (Haiti, Mexico, Canada, China, and New Zealand). The day was kicked off with a welcome from Kourtnii Brown, a keynote speech from Elinor Crescenzi of Food Cycle Collective, and a presentation from Community Composter Coalition Coordinator Clarissa Libertelli that previewed the results of ILSR’s 2022 Community Composter Census.
The rest of the day was jam-packed with table topic networking sessions, speaker presentations, plenary panels, and more. The full schedule can be viewed here, and to view and download the presentations themselves, click here.
“I feel way more confident in my ability to run my program with all of the amazing speakers and connections.” – Maya Shydlowski, Compost Education Program (San Jose, California)
J. Olu Baiyewu, Urban Ag Director of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability & Resilience, on panel Building a Community of Practice: Next Steps to Cultivate Community Composting
Conversations often returned to how to scale up operations, the need for smaller-sized composting equipment, and the difficulty of financing operations with restricted funds. But as important as it was to talk shop, it was equally impactful for community composters to connect personally with peers who share a common mission and values.
“It’s all about the relationships. Sure business tips and education, etc. But it’s so awesome to have friends all over now with whom I can confer and share the ups and downs and be encouraged by their progress in their location.” – John Cline, New Earth Farm (Saint Louis, Missouri)
It’s that human connection that, as Marvin Hayes of Baltimore Compost Collective likes to say, “spreads compost fever.” Marvin closed out the day with a powerful spoken word poem about the fight to close Baltimore’s incinerator and how composting brought his community together.
Left: Small-group table topic networking sessions at the Monday Forum. Right: Marvin Hayes, Baltimore Compost Collective.
And then, of course, we partied! Our more formal events were capped each night with valuable informal opportunities to connect, converse, and move. We ate good food, bowled, tried (unsuccessfully) to beat Marvin at ping pong, and danced to live music.
The Tuesday A.M. Field Day
On Tuesday morning, attendees woke up bright and early to head over to Cal Poly Pomona’s Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies for the Cultivating Community Composting Field Day. Over 160 people registered for the event.
The Field Day included the first ever small equipment demonstration, featuring a variety of machines and DIY projects, from hand-turned sifters to custom-welded bike trailers.
There was also a compost microscopy station, where attendees learned how to analyze their own compost samples and identify specific microbes. A separate monitoring and testing station demonstrated how to conduct different tests for measuring compost characteristics (such as salinity and maturity).
And the Food Cycle Collective team came through with a nourishing, locally-sourced lunch to fuel people for the tours ahead!
A more complete description of the day can be found here.
Field Day attendees observe a screener at the small equipment demo.
The Tuesday P.M. Tours
After the morning Field Day, buses departed for the afternoon tours, which featured community composting sites around California’s Inland Empire. Tours were led by members of Food Cycle Collective and offered at a sliding scale price.
Tour A focused on smaller-size urban and suburban sites, starting with an open pile system in the front yard of a synagogue, moving onto other small-size community operations, and finally culminating in a pile-building demo at the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation.
Pile-building demonstration by Food Cycle Collective at Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s garden
Tour B was more agriculturally-focused, featuring community gardens and some larger systems, such as the tractor-based composting operations found at Amy’s Farm and Huerta del Valle.
Tour B attendees visit Amy’s Farm, Inland Empire, California.
Until next time!
With the pandemic putting large gatherings on hold while at the same time revealing the urgent need to rethink our broken food systems, this gathering of community composters and movement allies was a long time coming. And, a much needed start to 2023!
ILSR’s composting team is looking forward to taking this knowledge and inspiration into the new year, and continuing to find new ways to connect and grow the community composting movement.
“I love how composters of every size and scale can come together to learn from one another, support each other, and find ways to bring composting into the mainstream. When we uplift each other we can do the most good for our communities.” – Lisa Daugherty, Juneau Composts! (Juneau, Alaska)
Thank You to Our Sponsors! We love you!
Your contributions primarily covered our scholarship fund, but also our networking reception, printed agendas/materials, and other direct expenses. Thank you!
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