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Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Program

| Written by Linda Bilsens | No Comments | Updated on Aug 25, 2016 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at

The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders program is a composter training program with a community-scale focus and a community service component. This program was developed by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and ECO City Farms and builds on the Master Composter model. The 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.

“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, which can be 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. Community leaders are needed to install and operate small-scale sites, 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. 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. The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilder composter training program was designed to meet this need.


***RECENT Course: Fall 2016 in Baltimore, MD***


Program Partners and 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. 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, and are currently partnering with Real Food Farms to bring the course to Baltimore (see link above for more information). We have also replicated the program in Lincoln, NE and Atlanta, GA. Our DC-region program has trained 31 NSR Master Composters, 8 NSR Advanced Master Composters and implemented 16 capstone projects. The DPR Urban Master Composter course trained another 23 composters. Find out more about the evolution of the NSR program and past courses here.


NSR Compost Monitoring

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


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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