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Composter Catalyzes a Movement in Her Community — Episode 3 of the Composting for Community Podcast

| Written by Nick Stumo-Langer | No Comments | Updated on Dec 8, 2017 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/composter-catalyzes-a-movement-in-her-community-episode-3-of-the-composting-for-community-podcast/

Welcome to the Composting for Community podcast!

We’re kicking things off with a special promotional mini-series for the upcoming 5th National Cultivating Community Composting (CCC) Forum and Workshop in Atlanta. In each episode of this mini-series, you will meet a new, inspiring community composter that attended the 2017 CCC events. You can find other episodes here.

We’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign to help enable more community composters to attend the 2018 CCC! Contributions will go into our scholarship fund to help us support dozens of community composters who normally could not attend due to the expense of travel. Please consider donating today!

Photo Courtesy of Tiffany Bess.

In This Episode

We talk with Tiffany Bess, Founder of Apple Rabbit Compost in Jacksonville, FL. Apple Rabbit Compost is a one-woman show that is changing the narrative around food waste to help nourish a more vibrant community from the ground up. They are the beginning of the composting movement in Jacksonville and are currently serving residents and a few restaurants in Jacksonville’s Urban Core neighborhoods.

Tiffany discusses how she’s helping to catalyze greater sustainability in her community, why she started Apple Rabbit Compost, and the role the Cultivating Community Composting Forum has played in helping her get started.

“…I started Apple Rabbit after managing a popular restaurant in the city that I live in. I was watching food get thrown away constantly and so I just kind of got to thinking like isn’t there something for recycling food the same way we recycle glass and paper?…a few months later I was like there’s still nothing like this around, I want to start it, I want to provide this service to people that I know would enjoy it. Being in the restaurant industry I had a lot of connections with other restaurateurs and saw that they, this was something that they were interested in and so there was definitely a viable market for it. ” says Tiffany Bess.

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View the full transcript of the podcast below:

Tiffany Bess: All the people just kind of encouraging you to just go out and be in your community. You know, regardless if it’s just for composting but just to have these sort of interactions and these personal experiences with everybody. It’s really nice to see people that feel that way and are reiterating it and reiterating it and encouraging that community feeling. It’s very important to me.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Welcome to the third episode of The Composting for Community Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. My name is Nick Stumo-Langer, ILSR’s Communication Manager.

This episode is recorded during the US Composting Council’s annual conference in Las Angeles in January of 2017. It features Tiffany Bess the founder of Apple Rabbit Compost in Jacksonville, Florida. We discuss how she came to form her composting business and the role it plays in her community. Tiffany also offers insight on her involvement with the startup culture of Jacksonville and the challenges to starting your own community composting operation.

This podcast is a third in a special promo series for the 5th Annual Cultivating Community Composting Workshop and Forum in Atlanta, sponsored by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and BioCycle Magazine. Register and learn more at ILSR.org/ccc-2018. That’s ILSR.org/ccc-2018.

Be sure to rate this podcast on iTunes or wherever you receive your podcasts. It helps us to create great content for you such as ILSR’s other podcasts, Building Local Power, Local Energy Rules, and Community Broadband Bits. Finally, be sure to visit ILSR.org for the latest on our work and all sectors of community development. And now, here’s Tiffany.

I’m here at the Compost 2017 USCC’s Conference on Composting, sitting here with Tiffany Bess, doing some interviews, raising up the voice of community composters, and generally kind of getting the sense of how this all works. So, Tiffany I’ll just have you introduce yourself and say a few words about kind of why you are here and what you do.

Tiffany Bess: My name is Tiffany Bess and I am the founder of Apple Rabbit Compost in Jacksonville, Florida which is actually where the 2016 conference was. So I was able to attend that conference last year and right before I started my business. It was really, really inspiring to be able to be around so many different people like that so that’s why I’m here this year, to kind of get that same experience. Especially, since I know more than I did last year. So.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Definitely, yeah, that’s excellent. It’s kind of cool to be able to see the life cycle of the business and what you’re doing year to year for the compost stuff.

So I’ll start with an easy question, one that a lot of people are saying okay I can get a sense of how this is going. What’s for you, what’s the power of compost and composting?

Tiffany Bess: For me, it’s really a connection with the community of the area of the city that I live in is very tight knit. It’s very family-oriented it seems like. And so compost is such a beautiful thing because it’s taking death and turning it into life again and it’s just very symbolic of the life cycle. And it’s just a very good way to empower our community and empower our fellow people by giving them something that they can create from something that’s normally just discarded.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Definitely, yeah. So maybe talk a little bit about why you wanted to start Apple Rabbit Compost, why you wanted to kind of get that going, and what parts of your community is that serving, and kind of how is that woven into the fabric of your community now.
Tiffany Bess: So I started Apple Rabbit after managing a popular restaurant in the city that I live in. I was watching food get thrown away constantly and so I just kind of got to thinking like isn’t there something for recycling food the same way we recycle glass and paper? So I did some research into what my city had to offer and it was nothing. So that was a little disheartening. And I kind of put the idea on the shelf and a few months later I was like there’s still nothing like this around, I want to start it, I want to provide this service to people that I know would enjoy it. Being in the restaurant industry I had a lot of connections with other restaurateurs and saw that they, this was something that they were interested in and so there was definitely a viable market for it.
Nick Stumo-Langer: That’s great. I mean yeah it seems like filling a need and kind of when you do literally have nothing for composting in a community then wherever you start, whatever you’re doing is a good place to go.

So moving forward from that you said that you’re in primarily doing residential. How does your business on a day to day basis, what does that look like? What are you, what are you doing, what’s your customer base look like, commercial/residential? Also, how engaged are you with the community? 

Tiffany Bess: So I am very involved in the community. I’ve actually been asked to be a contributor for one of our local publications, Edible Northeast Florida. That is a national publication so most other regions do have a publication, a copy where they are. I’m also part of our green action committee for a local event in our city so with that we’re just kind of trying to act as a catalyst for other events. And show them that you can be sustainable and that you can be green without being a hippie-dippy-granola festival. It can just be green as an added bonus. I also do a lot of volunteer work with like our river keeper as well as I’ve done some volunteer work at our local college as well. I’m definitely always out and about in the city.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Great. So education’s a big part of composting. A lot of people will be like how do I turn food scraps, how do I turn this banana peel into dirt that I can plant in the ground, that type of thing. What kind of relationship do you have with education and outreach, those types of parts in Jacksonville?
Tiffany Bess: Right now I don’t have a lot of outreach like that. I still work a full time job so I don’t have a lot of opportunity to go out to schools like I want to. I do have a lot of interest from home school groups that are very interested in coming out and learning about composting. I have had one home school group that did go out to the farm and they took a look at our compost site. It was like a group of about 6 children. We just kind of walked them around and showed them the pile of the food that just came from a garbage can. And then walked them, showed them the different processes and how at the end of this line we have this wonderful dirt that they all played around in. They got really excited about it and they also liked animals on the farm of course, but. They were just really excited to learn that this food that they kind of take for granted can actually be something really cool. Like what kid doesn’t love dirt?
Nick Stumo-Langer: Yeah exactly, that’s good! What kid doesn’t love dirt? That’s like a great slogan you can do for that outreach.

So another thing that I think’s important for a lot of folks especially if they are looking to replicate some of these things in their own community is what are the challenges you’ve run into? I know some people at the conference so far have talked about policy challenges or access to capital. You know being able to have the money to start up those types of things. So what have you found to be challenging in this field?

Tiffany Bess: Definitely the money aspect. I’ve been growing very slowly so I haven’t had the need for quite a lot of money quite yet. But now I’m getting to the point where I can’t really be using a pitch fork easily anymore. I would love to have a front loader for the tractor that’s on the property. So getting money for some bigger pieces of equipment like that like chippers, shredders, and things that’s definitely an issue. As well as being to show people are worth and that what we are doing costs money and it does, it is worth money, it is worth paying for. So that’s honestly the biggest hurdle I’ve had is just convincing people that this, is much as it’s a labor of love and I do it for next to nothing, I can’t do it for completely nothing. So like that’s kind of been my biggest issue, is just kind of introducing people to the idea and showing them its worth and making them see what it is.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Definitely. What’s the kind of relationship that you had with your local government, like Jacksonville City Council or maybe Department of Parks that type of thing? I don’t know exactly what the relationship looks like but anything you’ve done or encountered there?
Tiffany Bess: I don’t have a lot of relationship with them. The only. This is kind of beside the point, but the only relationship I’ve had with our Parks and Recreation Director is actually to ask about why our recycle bins in our city parks are not being recycled. They are still being sent to the landfill and our residents don’t know this. So that’s the only.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Not the best interaction for that, yeah.
Tiffany Bess: So far, it’s, it hasn’t been the best. But, he’s very willing to work with me and hopefully kind of either remove those bins or maybe do an actual recycling pick up service, or at least paint them so people are deceived anymore. Cause I know a lot of people that would hold onto their recyclables if they knew that that wasn’t going to be going where it’s supposed to.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Yes, yes, definitely. I’m sure there’s a lot of people that are saying just take it home or something like that so that’s interesting relationship with that.

So kind of looking at the conference here and you know we had an all day workshop on Monday where we heard from a lot of different community composters, various different scales and various different areas of the country. What’s, what do you think is the best thing that you’ve learned from them and their, kind of offering the different parts of the business model but also, like, the actual, the impact, the community engagement parts. What did you take away from that?

Tiffany Bess: Well, a couple of things that people showed us at the workshop yesterday. One of the things that I really, really enjoyed was the rewards program. That one was very interesting to me. I for. It was Dustin’s business and so I really liked that a lot. As well as all the people just encouraging you to just go out and be in your community. Regardless if it’s just for composting but that just to have these sort of interactions and these personal experiences with everybody. It’s really nice to see people that feel that way and are reiterating it and reiterating it and encouraging that community feelings. It’s very important to me.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Yeah, definitely. It’s something where I think we can all learn from the challenges and from the successes of a lot of people’ve had. And I like to say that there’s not one like something that is right for Jacksonville or something that’s right for Austin is not going to be right for another city that has different circumstances. So we definitely we want to blast as many different models out there as possible because each community is different. And you know, you’re closing different gaps. You’re saying you’re having a really healthy start up culture. And maybe that’s a good way to say at the ground level, like you want to be composting so that type of thing.

Is there anything else you want to share with us for this interview?

Tiffany Bess: So just kind of touching on different models and what doesn’t work for one versus the other. Like Kat with Tilthy Rich she does it all by bike. She’s an awesome, powerful woman and I would love to go that route but Jacksonville is so sprawling, it is huge like land-wise. And so that hasn’t been something that I’ve been able to do quite yet. It’s really encouraging to see these people that are still saying even if you aren’t able to do it how I’m doing it you’re still doing it the right way for you. So that’s been very positive and just kind of affirming that things are going okay and that I’m on the right track.
Nick Stumo-Langer: That’s a great message to blast out to anyone that might be listening to this too, so that’s great. Alright, so I’ll end this with the recommendation, the recommendation of what you’re reading, listening to, anything you’re interested in. Just so people can go right from this conversation where you’re getting your perspective to something that’s informed you, that type of thing. So do you have a recommendation for us?
Tiffany Bess: Yeah, so starting out the one of the biggest people I paid attention to was Dr. Elaine Ingram. She was definitely one of the compost pioneers that I loved and loved listening to, it was very informational. As well as books, you can never get enough books, especially like Rodale’s Organic. They have several composting books and they are just chock full of information, everything you need to know. Honestly, if you have one of those books you probably don’t need any of the other ones because it probably has everything that you need to learn about composting.
Nick Stumo-Langer: That’s great. Like an all sources guide. That’s great. Alright, well thank you so much Tiffany for being here with me. I hope you had a good time here.
Tiffany Bess: I did, thank you so much for having me. This was an amazing experience and what a wonderful way to end it.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Thank you so much for listening to this special episode of The Composting for Community podcast from The Institute for Local Self Reliance. Thank you to Grapes for his track “I Dunno” license on Creative Commons. Be sure to check out the rest of the ILSR podcast family including Building Local Power, and Local Energy Rules, and Community Broadband Bits at ILSR.org. Have a great day.

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