Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Program

The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders (NSR) Compost Training Program trains participants to establish and manage composting projects that both engage and serve their communities. The NSR program was developed by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and ECO City Farms and builds on the Master Composter model. Community leaders are needed to install and operate small-scale composting sites at schools, churches, community gardens, farms and other community institutions. These leaders can then teach other community leaders, share lessons learned, and spread enthusiasm for composting. But to succeed, they need training, exposure to best practices and systems, and on-the-ground technical support. The NSR program was designed to meet this need. Watch the video below to meet some of the people behind the program:

Read more about the NSR program below. To learn more about the NSR program’s work promoting best management practices for community composting, click here. To read more about our current work in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, click here.

Program Overview: The NSR Master Composter course involves 20 hours of classroom instruction and 20 hours of hands-on fieldwork and covers Composting Science, Soil Science, Compost Testing, Pile and Bin Building, Community Engagement, and more. Each participant commits to 30 hours of community service and to completing a “capstone” composting project. As a train-the-trainer program, the NSR facilitates a cultural shift through diffusion, by establishing leaders and networks that enable the continued sharing of composting-know how.

“Master composter” train-the-trainer programs are not new. But common programs don’t emphasize the art and science of hot composting at the community-scale level such as at schools, urban farms, and community gardens. Composting at this level is an effective way to engage youth, gardeners, and other members of the community in the act of cycling food waste into a valuable soil amendment to grow more food. By working with the sustainable and urban agriculture movements, we are linking composting and healthy soils to each other and to the intrinsic relationship between agriculture, community health, and community prosperity. These new generation of “master composters” are essential to create an army of volunteers who understand composting and its benefits, and who will push for policies and programs to expand food scrap composting. As with all of ILSR’s work, the NSR program prioritizes building community equity through inclusion and empowerment.


NSR Compost Monitoring
NSR participants learning how to monitor the health of a compost pile

Program Impact: We first launched the NSR Master Composter program in the DC metro region, offering classes fall 2014, spring 2015, spring 2016, and an 8-week Advanced Master Composter apprenticeship program fall 2015. Our DC-region program has trained 31 NSR Master Composters, 8 NSR Advanced Master Composters and implemented 16 capstone projects. Some notable NSR capstone projects include:

  • Jeffrey Neal (2014 Master Composter, 2015 Advanced Master Composter), manages the DPR Compost Cooperative at the Howard University Community Garden, as well as a medium-scale vermicomposting (worm composting) project in the basement of his DC condo. He has become a local on-site composting expert and provides technical assistance to businesses and institutions looking to establish their own composting programs. Read more here.
  • Abdu’l-Karim Ewing-Boyd (2014 Master Composter, 2015 Advanced Master Composter), is managing the composting at Elsie Whitlow Stokes Public Charter School in northeast DC. Karim has trained students to collect and compost food scraps (~150 gallons per week), and also teaches hands-on compost-focused lessons, helping teachers meet their core science standard requirements. Read more here.
  • Xavier Brown (2014 Master Composter, 2015 Advanced Master Composter), is currently is the DPR Compost Cooperative manager at Project EDEN (Everyone Deserves to Eat Naturally), part of a church community in DC’s Ward 8. Project EDEN is an innovative youth-focused urban garden initiative that brings fresh fruits and vegetables, workforce development, and transitional employment opportunities to underserved youth and adults. ILSR has also partnered with Xavier and Soilful City, a grassroots organization he runs to cultivate food sovereignty and healthy soil, to expand composting in the Clay Terrace community in Ward 7.
Atlanta gets composting!

Program Partners: Collaboration is at the heart of the NSR program! Our partners have included DC-area businesses like Urban Farm Plans, Compost Cab and Compost Crew, institutions like the Howard Office of Sustainability, and programs like the DC DPR Compost Cooperative Network. We have adapted the NSR Master Composter content to support programing for the DC Department of Parks and Recreation and the Baltimore Office of Sustainability. The DPR Urban Master Composter course has trained dozens of composters. We have also replicated the program in Lincoln, NE (Summer 2015), Atlanta (Summer 2016) and Baltimore (Fall 2016), resulting in 48 individuals trained and 16+ capstone projects. Find out more about the evolution of the NSR program and past courses here.

Course Description: The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Master Composter course provides an experiential learning environment for participants: half of the course takes place in the classroom and half in the field, doing hands-on training.

This course covers the following topics:

  • the small-scale composting process, beginning to end
  • best management practices for avoiding nuisance issues
  • how to use finished compost
  • how to build on-site compost systems
  • techniques for teaching others about composting
  • techniques for engaging community participation
  • compost site tour
  • compost bin building workshop
  • vermicomposting or worm composting (may be offered as a separate workshop)


NSR Aida Compost Testing
NSR participants learning how to test the quality of finished compost


Course Requirements: The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Master Composter course has four main requirements: attendance of all classes; implementation of a capstone project; completion of 30 hours of supported community composting service; and tracking and sharing community service hours and work completed. Participants will have six months from the last class to complete the capstone project and community service components.

For the capstone project component, participants will support or initiate a community composting project based on their interests and the needs of the community they are serving. Participants are encouraged to collaborate on supporting an existing community composting project. Potential projects might include building and managing compost bins at community gardens, schools, churches, or working at compost demonstration sites. In addition, participants provide NSR staff with brief monthly progress updates throughout the six-month, post-class period.

For the community service component, participants will be expected to log 30 hours of community composting service. Half of these hours will be spent providing hands-on composting support to a community in need

Upon successful completion of the course requirements, participants will be eligible for receipt of a Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Master Composter certificate and will be qualified to apply to the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Advanced Master Composter train-the-trainer apprenticeship.


NSR Bin Build at ECO
NSR participants pile in for a picture during the compost bin building workday


Interested in Replicating the Program in Your Community? The program is designed for other communities to replicate! We are looking for early adopters. Please contact Linda Bilsens at for more information.


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