How Community Composting Disrupts Big Waste (Episode 61)

Date: 13 Dec 2018 | posted in: Building Local Power, Podcast | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Terry Craghead, Founder of Fertile Ground

In this episode, host Brenda Platt speaks with Terry Craghead. Terry founded Fertile Ground, a worker-owned cooperative collecting and composting food scraps on a small scale in Oklahoma City. They discuss the power of community composting to transform the monopolized waste system and build up the local economy by reducing food waste, creating jobs, and combatting climate change.

Terry got started in his own backyard by composting scraps from his garden and using the resulting soil to grow food with neighbors in a community garden. Today, Fertile Ground has nine worker-owners and is part of the growing community composter movement across the country.

Brenda and Terry also discuss worker-owned cooperatives and how setting up a business as a cooperative allows the workers to earn a livable wage, build wealth, and cycle money back into their local community.

Listen in to hear how community composters are playing a vital role in building up their local economies!

“I think there’s potential here for local, community scale folks to disrupt the waste industry. When we accumulate waste in these giant landfills, giant incinerators, we’re really creating a disaster. We want to teach people how to compost in their own backyards. We want to teach people that they can compost at their community garden, at their neighborhood schools, at their workplaces, hospitals, universities.”

Brenda Platt: Hello and welcome to Building Local Power, a podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I’m Brenda Platt, the director ILSR’s Composting for Community Initiative, and I’m super excited for you to hear this week’s podcast. We’ll be discussing an option for building local power that can address a wide range of problems: soil fertility, soil erosion, food waste, food insecurity, climate destruction, and the threat of corporate concentration. This option can address all these issues while at the same time creating local jobs and enterprises that build community. Well, what could this one solution be you might ask? If you guessed compost or more specifically community-oriented or community-scale composting, you are right. Our guest this week is Terry Craighead, a founding member of Fertile Ground, a worker owned cooperative collecting and composting food scraps on a small scale in Oklahoma City. He oversees day to day operations in the cooperative. Terry, welcome.
Terry Craghead: Hi, Brenda. Thanks for having me.
Brenda Platt: I am so excited to talk to you today because it’s rare to find a single solution that can address so many issues at once. As we know, compost is a soil amendment often called black gold and can be made from a range of waste materials. As we get started in this discussion, tell us a little bit about Fertile Ground and what services you offer?
Terry Craghead: Fertile Ground is a worker owned cooperative here in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and we provide a series of environmentally beneficial services. Primarily, our flagship service is residential composting service. We do a bike-powered compost service and we do a truck-powered service for folks who are outside of the downtown area. We provide commercial composting for businesses, for offices with break rooms, cafeterias, residential and commercial recycling for apartments and multifamily buildings that don’t have recycling, for businesses that have small volume needs of recycling. Then we also do Zero Waste Events where we help plan, strategize events for small private events and big public events, how to reduce the waste that’s created by those events.
Brenda Platt: Can you tell us a little bit more about the composting part of your business? How are you composting and what materials in particular you’re collecting for composting?
Terry Craghead: We have two different systems, we have a residential composting service and so we have, like I mentioned, a bike-powered service where our workers ride up to our customer’s homes. A customer has set out their bucket of food scraps and in our residential service, we stick to backyard composting Best Management Practices. We ask for vegetables, fruit scraps, coffee grounds. Things that aren’t going to cause a problem composting at a community garden. Then we take those food scraps, and we ride on down the street to our community garden where we mix the food scraps from our customers in with the composting efforts going on at the community garden. The community garden gets to keep part of that compost and then we get part of that compost to give back to our customers. Our customers literally contribute to the composting efforts of the community garden and thus contribute to the community garden.
Brenda Platt: I love that you’re collecting food scraps from the local community and composting it at local community gardens, and then those gardens are using the finished compost to grow more vegetables and more food for people. It’s really cycling those community assets within your local community. How did you get started in this field of composting and how did you decide to do it so locally?
Terry Craghead: I literally got started in my backyard. I wanted to grow my own food for my family and I thought, “Wow, why am I going to go buy fertilizers when I have these resources that I’m throwing away in my trash sending to the landfill.” I just simultaneous started a garden in my backyard and started a composting pile in my backyard and I just started collecting my food waste while I was planting my tomatoes. Then over time I started adding that into my garden, then I started to get curious, “Are there others in my community that are gardening? I’d like to find a community garden.” I reached out to a friend and was like, “Hey, I think I want to start a community garden here in our neighborhood.” Well, just a week or two later, she was contacted by another person who wanted to do the same thing.

We ended up meeting up and we organized what became CommonWealth Urban Farms, which was this hybrid volunteer nonprofit community urban farm where volunteers would come every Saturday. We would compost together, learn how to grow food together, and it was really that experience that I saw the amount of waste that was produced. We had a partnership with one local grocery store and we had volunteers that would come three days a week and we would process food waste from this local grocery store. Just seeing that amount of waste was really the impetus for low ground I thought, “Wow, this is so much waste from one store. We should knock on doors of restaurants and see if we can organize something to divert more of this food waste from the landfill and create soil that we could grow good food in.”

Brenda Platt: Yeah, I mean it’s awesome that you partnered with what is it? CommonWealth Urban Farm and really harnessing the power initially of volunteers to make this happen, and then it transitioned into an enterprise with paid workers. Before we get into the business structure of Fertile Ground, which I think people will be interested in hearing, let’s just talk first about the benefits of compost to local soils. What does compost offer and why is it better than say conventional fertilizers?
Terry Craghead: Yeah, sure. Compost has a multitude of benefits. When you add it to the soil, it improves the soil structure, porosity, density, making a better plant root environment. It increases the infiltration and permeability of heavy soils thus reducing erosion and run off. It improves the water holding capacity for sandy soils, so it acts like a sponge. It supplies a variety of macro and micro nutrients for plants, a slow release fertilizer. It also helps stabilize pHs that are out of balance, whether that’s high or low. It improves the Cation Exchange Capacity of soils, which allows plants to take up nutrients at a better rate. Like a probiotic, one of the prime benefits is that compost supplies lots and lots of beneficial microorganisms to the soil. And those organisms have a symbiotic relationship with your plants. Composting is like feeding the soil and healthy soil makes healthy plants.

Then it increases the organic matter of your soil, so over time composting, adding it to your soil, adding it to your yard helps sequester carbon from the atmosphere by feeding those microorganisms in the soil. It’s like one thing that’s so simple that we can do that has so many benefits includes water quality, air quality, soil quality, plant quality or human health. It’s just kind of a no-brainer that we’re not doing this at a bigger level than we are.

Brenda Platt: Yeah, no kidding. I mean, compost certainly earns its nickname as black gold and I will say your name of your business, Fertile Ground, is obviously a spot on name. One of the products I know that you produce is compost filter socks which are not designed to be added to soil to amend it. Tell us a little bit about what that product is?
Terry Craghead: Yeah, sure. So compost filter socks are a sediment in erosion control, BMP, Best Management Practice, and think of a snake that’s eight inches, nine inches in diameter, maybe 20 feet long, 200 feet long. We fill the snake with it, we use durable fabric and we fill this with overs of the composting process and these snakes act as a three-dimensional filter when you put them around construction sites. Anytime you disturb the soil, you’re going to have erosion and so what these socks do is they catch those soil particles, nutrients, pollutants, hydrocarbons that are on site. If somebody is developing a neighborhood or building a road, and it filters those things out of the storm water thus creating better rivers, creeks, streams, and lakes here in Oklahoma.
Brenda Platt: Yeah, and I’ll just add that compost filter socks are one of the many applications for compost in the growing “green infrastructure market.” In contrast, gray infrastructure, as pipes, concrete ditches, detention palms, etc. Green infrastructure, on the other hand, harnesses nature to control stormwater runoff. As Terry you were just describing, it includes, rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs, and the like. There are at least two dozen compost-based products that are considered Best Management Practices for controlling stormwater runoff and soil erosion. We have compost engineered soil, compost blankets for stabilization of steep banks, embankments. When I think one of the coolest applications for compost is in vegetative retaining walls where you basically take these socks you were describing, stack them on top of each other and create a retaining wall.

Often that compost has the vegetative seed in it, which then grows and becomes this kind of vegetative infrastructure. These products are so cool and I love that a lot of what fertile ground is doing is partnering with other groups. Can you talk a little bit about your many partnerships and collaborators? We found that, surprise, small-scale composters are rooted in their community and they have so many community relationships and partnerships.

Terry Craghead: Gosh, we would not exist without our community. From the ground level when we first started, we partnered with Commonwealth Urban Farms and they were closely connected to a nonprofit youth group that taught kids organic gardening skills, they’re called Closer to Earth. We partner with 612, which is a local art space, event space, education space focuses on sustainability. We partner with churches, Joe – Mennonite Church, Mosaic, United Methodist, 8th Street Nazarene Church, and those folks allow their community members to bring their compost to their church. And then we collect that compost and take it to local community sites. We have our medium-scale composter is Minick Materials here in Oklahoma City, they’ve been a big supporter and encourager of growing the composting infrastructure here in Oklahoma.

There who we bring our commercial scale compost to, we drop that material off with them and then they use that screen, that compost and sell that in the community. We have partnerships with local peace and social justice groups, we do Zero Waste Events for those folks. There are so many partnerships and friendships and people that we support. The local businesses that we serve in our composting service. When we’re on our social media feed, we’re often sharing things that they’ve got going on, but when we’re buying gifts for our families, we’re stopping off at Black Scintilla and supporting local businesses. Buying local foods from Urban Agrarian, Oklahoma Food Cooperative, other local food producers here in Oklahoma City to try to grow this local economy.

Brenda Platt: Yeah, and this is a perfect example of growing local power where you’re supporting the community on and running a local business that’s employing local workers and keeping those assets within your local community. Let’s talk about big waste corporations versus community enterprises like yours. What people may not understand is what typically happens is we’re collecting food waste mixed with garbage. It’s collected very often by a large hauler, even if it’s collected by your local community or town or local government, it ends up going to a landfill or a trash and center that’s owned by a huge waste corporation. What happens in Oklahoma City with garbage that you’re not collecting separated?
Terry Craghead: Yeah, so almost all of the waste in Oklahoma City, 98% of the waste goes to the landfill. When food waste is buried in a landfill, it is not able to decompose naturally with oxygen the way it does in nature. This anaerobic decomposition creates methane and methane is 20 to 30 times more heat trapping than carbon dioxide which is the natural byproduct of the composition. We’re basically enriching these giant waste corporations to destroy our environment through creating these giant methane pollutants and they talk about, “Oh, well, we can capture some of the gas, they can capture a very small percentage of the methane gas that’s produced in the landfill.” In Oklahoma, it’s virtually non-existent. We have one landfill that tries to capture some gas but it’s like maybe 10% of the gas that’s produced in the landfill. Yeah, we’re just we’re creating these giant methane machines by burying all of this food waste.
Brenda Platt: Yeah, and I’m glad you mentioned the benefits of diverting food waste from landfills to combating changing climate. Landfills are a top source of methane that you mentioned and when we do the opposite, when we convert food waste into compost and add it to soils, it’s a win-win for the climate because organic matter, increasing organic matter and soils is now recognized as one of the most important things we can do for stemming climate change in the short term. According to the UN, Restoring the world’s soils. Can we move 51 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere? You’d think with all these benefits, we’d be composting so much more. Why do you think we aren’t doing more composting?
Terry Craghead: I think that places like Oklahoma, where there’s still low visibility, people just don’t think about waste. They think about things that are urgent in their life, the things that have to get done, or waste is something, you know, throw it in the trash and it’s gone. It’s out of sight, out of mind. So, unless it becomes a problem, unless your trash can is overflowing or it’s stinking, people just don’t tend to think through, “What happens?” The whole concept of away. People don’t think about what happens to their waste, and what it means for their children and grandchildren, that they’re not considering what happens to that. So, I think it’s just a mindset that people have to be made aware of. Hey, there are consequences of our actions, and if we can think through a smarter way of dealing with our waste now, our kids will have a better environment, a better quality of life down the road.
Brenda Platt: Yeah, I mean, couldn’t agree more with that sentiment, and one beauty of composting is that there’s no one way to do it. It can be small scale, large scale, and everything in between. A local government can decide it’s going to divert food scraps and start with home composting, or community scale, or starting a training program to teach community gardeners how to compost. They don’t have to start from the get go with rolling out a curbside collection program and offering it to every household to get on the path to diverting food scraps from landfills. One of the things I love about what you’re doing is that you’re demonstrating that independent community scale composters like Fertile Ground can roll out these programs, get customers, get clients, make the case, and demonstrate what’s possible in a part of the country that has historically really low recycling rates, and really low landfill disposal cost as well. That you’re able to make a business out of this is quite amazing.
Terry Craghead: Yeah, yeah. It’s definitely been a challenge. It’s something we knew that we were gonna have to spend some time, some years educating the public about the need for our services, but we’ve kind of found a community of folks that are cheering us on and making it more visible, and we started to figure out some strategies. The PR benefits of composting that a lot of people think of when they’re marketing services, I was real big on. In Oklahoma City, that’s not a big draw. We’re starting to see some more folks that value sustainability, but we’re also starting to find some strategies of cost savings by partnering with other local haulers, compared to just people relying on the big waste management companies.
Brenda Platt: Yeah, you know one of the things I think is really interesting about your enterprise is the part that you’re using, the bike powered collection, and I would think if I was one of your residential customers, I would be like, “Oh my God, somebody is coming to my house to pick up my food scraps on a bike. That is the coolest thing. Yes, sign me up.” Can you talk a little bit about how that offering service with bikes and trailers is helping get people excited about what you’re doing? Is that a draw?
Terry Craghead: Oh yeah, definitely. People see our little bike and trailer riding through the neighborhood, riding through town, and they see the Fertile Ground logo. We call the bike the Dirt Bike, and people are just intrigued like, “What is that? Why is that person hauling a barrel on the back of a bike?” Something that people visually go to and they see. Most people, initially, are like, “Why on Earth, for one, are you collecting food scraps? Why are you doing it on a bike?” When we explain it and we start to talk about it it’s like, “Oh, that makes so much more sense. You’re reducing my carbon footprint by dealing with my food waste responsibly, and then you’re also not throwing a bunch of carbon emissions into the air by using a bike, and you’re staying healthy by giving your riders a workout.” It makes a lot of sense in addition to just being a cool piece of what we’re doing.
Brenda Platt: Yeah, I can’t think of anything more inherently distributed or local than a bike powered enterprise. Do you see Fertile Ground as playing a role in breaking the big waste monopoly over the trash system? Is that something you think about or that plays into your mission at all?
Terry Craghead: Most definitely, yeah. Fertile Ground really, as a concept, the business name is there’s potential here for community benefit, for people working together to create something that disrupts the destructive status quo. I think there’s potential here for local, community scale folks to disrupt the waste industry. When we accumulate waste in these giant landfills, giant compost facilities, giant incinerators, we’re really creating a disaster. While it seems like, “Wow, there’s a lot of benefits. This is efficient,” what happens when those things go wrong? When your compost facility gets shut down for environmental concerns? Then there’s nowhere to take the compost if you’ve set up a hauling infrastructure. We want to teach people how to compost in their own backyards. We want to teach people that they can compost at their community garden, at their neighborhood schools, at their workplaces, hospitals, universities. We want folks to watch what they’re wasting. Don’t waste as much of your food. Weigh, measure, pay attention. Reduce the amount of food waste that you’re creating.

Give it away to a food panty, to a homeless shelter. Find community partnerships. There are people who are hungry, who will eat good food if we can just think a little bit farther ahead. There are Good Samaritan laws in place that protect folks who want to do good, who want to make sure hungry people are eating. All of these things work together, this big circular system of reducing waste, protecting the environment, building community, feeding people, creating local jobs. They all work together, and I think it’s a much more resilient way of building our communities, and of doing life together.

Brenda Platt: Absolutely. Big waste dominates every aspect of solid waste in this country. The four top consolidated companies earn an astounding $30 billion of the $70 billion waste sector. I think that those companies own or control something like three quarters of the permeative landfill capacity in major metropolitan areas. So, what folks I think would be interested in understanding is that instead of giving our waste, our community resources, to these big waste corporations when we do instead, Terry, what you were just describing, keep it local, reduce waste, rescue edible food, do it on a distributed scale, on bikes, still using maybe some other trucks as you described, but send it to a network of community gardens, urban farms. Produce food that you can now sell back to your local restaurants. I mean, that is what we’re talking about. That is a resilient community. That’s a more resilient soils. That’s creating more jobs, keeping it local, and it’s not that hard.

There are no technology obstacles to doing this. It’s really getting your local community to agree that you want to move towards a zero waste economy, or you want to recover food scraps. You want to do it in a distributed way. There’s a hierarchy, a priority of the things you can do. I think you’re leading the way in Oklahoma on how this can happen, and I hope you can spur many other businesses to do the same throughout your area and city, and hopefully you’ll be able to get your city on board with supporting your efforts. We have to take a break now. To learn more about Fertile Ground, please check out its website at FertileGroundOK.coop. When we come back we’ll dive into why Fertile Ground’s business is structured as a worker owned cooperative, and the benefits of such coops.

Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of Building Local Power. This is the part of a podcast where you usually hear an ad, but that’s not how it works on ISLR’s podcast. We are a national organization that supports local economies, which means we don’t accept national advertising. Please consider making a donation to ILSR. Not only does your support underwrite this podcast, but it also helps us produce the resources and research we make available for free on our website, like the one we’re discussing today. Please take a minute and go to ILSR.org/donate. Any amount is welcome, and sincerely appreciated. That’s ILSR.org/donate. Thank you so much, and now, back to our discussion with Terry Craghead of Fertile Ground.

So, Fertile Ground is organized as a worker owned cooperative. Explain to our listeners what a cooperative is, and specifically, what’s a worker owned cooperative?

Terry Craghead: Lots of folks are familiar with coops that they interact with in their daily lives. There are credit unions, there are housing cooperatives. All sorts of cooperatives. So, a cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise. So, a worker coop is a values driven business that puts worker and community benefit at the core of its purpose. The two central characteristics of a worker coop are that the workers own the business, and they participate in the financial success on the basis of their labor contribution to the coop, and workers have representation on and vote for the board of directors. The workers manage the coop. There are different styles of worker coop management. Some elect management through their board, others are completely self directed. No hierarchy in their management structure. There’s lots of different ways of doing that.
Brenda Platt: Terry, how many worker owners does Fertile Ground have?
Terry Craghead: Yes, so there are nine worker owners in our group.
Brenda Platt: Do the worker owners have specific jobs? I mean, is somebody in charge of fund raising or financials, is somebody else in charge of marketing? How does that work?
Terry Craghead: We’ve had to build job descriptions organically and as we had the ability. We really started with no financing. We just started with our sweat equity, but we’ve created jobs now for drivers, for bike haulers, we have one of our members that does our office management, bookkeeping, accounts payable, receivable. Other members are our social media experts. They focus on getting the word out about what we do and our partnerships in the community, and we have people that do sales, that knock on doors for businesses. People that are strategizing how to grow the business.
Brenda Platt: Do your workers earn a livable wage?
Terry Craghead: Yeah, that’s really important to us. There is a universal living wage calculator you can find online. For us, we’ve decided in this stage of our growth, we’re gonna pay our workers $13 dollars an hour. That is not a flat, set rate. I assume over time as we get more skilled folks in the coop, there might be some pay discrepancy, if we have to hire outside folks that have a specialization, but worker coops in general, they try to keep those wage differences between the highest and the lowest paid workers to a minimum. So, the average business in America, a corporation, I think the top CEOs get paid something like … it’s 271 to one, is the wage gap. In a worker coop, often three to one is the top end of pay inequality there is. For us right now, we’re all getting paid $13 an hour.
Brenda Platt: How has being a worker coop helped Fertile Ground?
Terry Craghead: There have been a lot of benefits. Just right of the bat, we have distributed responsibility. It’s not up to one founder or two founders to do all of the work and to build the business on their back. We’re able to distribute the workload to our worker owners, who are not just in it for a paycheck. They own the business, and so they have responsibilities to help grow the business. So, distributed responsibility has been huge. We’ve been able to finance some of our capital costs through sweat equity, when workers come in. If they’re able, we allow folks to pay off their membership fee upfront, but they could also work that off over a period of years, but those payments, that sweat equity has helped us to grow our capital when we didn’t just have cash in the bank. We’ve had flexible roles. People are able to switch from driving the bike route, to the commercial route, to helping with events. As our folks have gone through different stages of life, having children, going through a sickness, taking a sabbatical, we’re able to shift and change our roles as we need to.

We have a bigger network of supporters as a coop. When you just have one person who’s the business owner, they have their network of friends and family that support them, but being a group of nine people now we have a broader network of support when we’re trying to fundraise, build business. We have a lot of people supporting us, and then just the synergy of working in a group that’s building something bigger, that’s working towards a goal. The interstitial characteristics of people. When my motivation is done, I’ve got a teammate, a partner. They it’s like they are motivated, and it’s not all just about what’s going on in my personal life. I have the benefit of a team that can help build me and lift me up, and then likewise, I help build them up and get them going. That’s just a few of the benefits, but those are a few of the things that just come to my mind immediately.

Brenda Platt: You mentioned paying off membership fees. Can you just describe what you mean by that?
Terry Craghead: There are a lot of benefits of being in a co-op, but there’s also responsibilities, and so worker co-ops want to ensure that the worker-owners that share in the benefits also share in the cost and responsibilities. So, one of the things is having skin in the game. Having something to lose in the co-op gives you more impetus to struggle and to push for the survival of the organization, if you have something to lose. It also helps with capital as you’re trying to buy equipment.

We have a member fee of $2000 to join Fertile Ground, and we have a process for folks who join. You have to work with us for six months. You have to go through training of worker-ownership, what does it mean to be a worker-owner, and then set up some kind of payment plan for your membership share. Maybe you don’t have $2000 upfront, but you could set up a payment plan and pay that over a period of four years, and then you’re voted on by the members in the co-op, “Is this going to fit? Is this going to work?” Then, yeah, that’s kind of how folks become members of our co-op.

Brenda Platt: Very cool. One of the things I think is really amazing is how fast community-scale, community-oriented composting, is growing in the country, but we’re also seeing more and more interest in worker-owned cooperative like yours. In addition to Fertile Ground, we’ve been tracking CERO, which is near Boston, and they describe themselves as a bilingual team of worker-owners that are connected with Boston’s working class and communities of color. Also, in Massachusetts there’s the Pedal People Cooperative, and I know they maintain that environmental sustainability is not possible without the social equity.

In other parts of the country, like in Flagstaff, Arizona, there’s Roots Composting, and that’s another whose philosophy is really rooted, pun intended maybe, not just making a profit but also providing an array of community benefits while making compost or soil amendments. It’s really been exciting to see the growth in this kind of business-entity structure, and the benefits that brings, not only to the scale of their community composting enterprise, but also the benefits it brings to the community in terms of community wealth. That’s one thing I want to ask you about is how does your work or cooperative differ in terms of the flow of money or building wealth in the community compared to a conventional business?

Terry Craghead: Right, so in a conventional business profits are distributed based on the amount of money that you’ve put into the entity, the organization, but in a worker co-op, not only are people earning a wage, but people are sharing in the profits of the business. So, we’re not investing in a distant stock market. We’re not sending our money offshore. We’re investing in our neighborhoods, in our communities. We’re shopping locally. Our members are also able to build wealth. They can maintain and grow their savings through keeping the surplus that we build inside the cooperative through their internal capital accounts. So, really well developed co-ops in other parts of the world, they’ve developed retirement plans and systems, college-savings plans just internally with co-op members saving the surplus, their dividends, within the co-op so that they can decide to pull out some money to take a vacation once in a while, save for their child’s college, save for their retirement. But, in general, folks that work in worker co-ops are not sending their money far away. They’re investing that money in the local economy.
Brenda Platt: That’s right, and that’s along the line of other independently-scaled enterprises and businesses. That’s one of the benefits of supporting local businesses is you’re keeping your dollars and resources, reinvesting in your local community, rather than sending it to the headquarters of national conglomerates. For those wanting to learn more about worker-owned cooperatives, do you have some favorite resources that you like to share?
Terry Craghead: We’re a member of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, so you can check them out. Their site is usworker.coop, but they provide a lot of benefits to worker co-ops: connections, they do annual conferences, they help with strategizing, finding financing. Just a great organization that’s building the worker co-op movement around the country. Some educational resources: The Democracy at Work Institute is a sister organization with the US Federation, and they are at institute.coop. The Industrial Cooperative Association, you can go to their website, the ica-group.org. They have a lot of great educational PDFs that you can download — how to set up your internal capital accounts. Just some really specific information that helped us out a lot.

There are financing resources for worker co-ops. There is a National Cooperative Lending Organization that co-ops from around the country are members of, and they invest their money into Shared Capital Cooperative, and then Shared Capital then turns around and loans money to cooperatives that are maybe start ups or doing an expansion or doing a conversion, where employees are buying the business from their aging business owner who’s retiring. Then the workers can own and run the business. Shared Capital is an excellent resource. Check them out, sharedcapital.coop. There’s Local Enterprise Assistance Fund, the Cooperative Fund of New England, the Working World. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, they do grants around the country for worker co-ops. They have local grants, and then they have big national grants. We’ve gotten a lot of support through the local Catholic campaign here in Oklahoma City through Catholic charities.

There’re also crowdfunding platforms. There’s a lending platform that we’ve used in the past called Kiva U.S., and so you can borrow up to $10,000 in microloans at a 0% interest rate from people in your community and all around the world. Then there’s also a new crowdfunding equity platform, so folks from all over the world can invest in your business, and you can set up non-worker-owner class of shares in your company. One way of doing it, a preferred stock so that the workers retain control and ownership of the business, but folks could maybe pull their money out of the stock market, and instead of investing and hoping for a return of 10% on their investment, they can invest in this community-oriented enterprise, and they’re willing to accept maybe 3% return on their investment. They don’t get a say in the major decisions of the co-op, but they know that their money is going to something good. That equity crowdfunding platform is called Crowdfund Main Street, so check them out. Those are a few of the things I would point people to

Brenda Platt: Those are great resources. Thank you for sharing those. You shared tips and these resources for folks wanting to consider becoming a worker-owned cooperative. What about tips for those wanting to start a community-scaled composting business like yours, especially in areas of the country with low landfill fees and little recycling? Any tips there?
Terry Craghead: Yeah, sure, I would just say to start small, make a plan, look for adequate financing, but there’s a market for this. People are interested in not just dollars and cents. There’s a growing number of people, especially in urban areas, who want to do the right thing, and they want to avoid sending their waste to the landfills. Yeah, I would say start small, dig into your community, find out, “Are there any local organizations that would support our work that we can partner with?” Start showing up to events. Setting up zero-waste events where you can maybe trade for table space while you’re also collecting the compost at the event. Those are just a few ways to get the word out there, and to build partnerships, and build a community of support around your organization.
Brenda Platt: Here at ILSR, we also have lots of resources on community-scale composting. We facilitate the Community Composter Coalition, and organize a National Cultivating Community Composting Forum, and we have a series of webinars, and a Google group, and various guides. So, check out our resources as well.
Terry Craghead: I would be remiss to point out that ILSR has an excellent community-composting support environment. They have the Community Compost Coalition, where you can join webinars, learn about bike-powered composting, entity structures. They also host the Cultivating Community Composting Forum. Last year, that was my first time to attend the forum, and it was so helpful to me, other community scale composters doing what I’m doing all around the country. Really encouraged me, and sent me home in high spirits to keep going and sharing what I learned with our team here in Oklahoma City. Then they’ve also made this Growing Local Fertility Guide a few years ago. It’s just like case studies full of like what different people are doing around the country, different organizations are doing, to compost and keep compost local.
Brenda Platt: Well, thanks, Terry, for that plug. Really appreciate that. Is there anything else that you would like to share, or a question I haven’t asked you yet?
Terry Craghead: If you see a problem, find some friends that can help you solve the problem. We all have our own locus of control. We’re not powerless to change our situation, we can start in our backyard by growing our own food and composting, and just reach out and meet other people who share the same values that you have because you really can make a difference, but you have to start with where you are.
Brenda Platt: That’s right, and Fertile Ground is just one of many enterprises and organizations from coast-to-coast doing work like this. That’s all the time we have today. Thank you for joining us today, Terry. Really appreciate it. For our listeners, if you weren’t convinced before to compost, we hope you are now. Starve a landfill and a trash incinerator. Feed the soil. Feed the community. Create dignified jobs in community-benefit enterprises. Save the climate and the planet — compost. Thank all of you for tuning in to this episode of the Building Local Power Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. You can find the links we discussed today at ilsr.org and clicking on the show page for this episode. That’s ilsr.org. While you’re there you can sign up for one of her many newsletters, and connect with us on social media.

Finally, you can help us out with a gift that helps produce this very broadcast, gets us great guests like Terry Craighead, and helps us provide original research and technical assistance. Once again, please help us out by rating this broadcast and sharing it with your friends on iTunes, or wherever you find your podcast. This show is produced by Lisa Gonzales and Hibba Meraay, our Communications Manager. Our theme music is Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL. For the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, I am Brenda Platt, and I hope you join us again in two weeks for the next episode of Building Local Power.

 

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Photo Credit: Ben_Kerckx via Pixabay

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

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Hibba Meraay
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Hibba Meraay

Hibba Meraay manages communications for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She works closely with all of our initiatives to build community power and combat monopolies. A native New Englander, Hibba is a graduate of Boston University. Contact Hibba for media inquiries.