Summer Camp starts full scale composting
For the record, Oswegatchie has been recycling glass, plastic, metals, refundable containers, and cardboard for 20 years. All of our wood scraps are reused and our horse manure is aged and used for soil. Sawmill waste is used for multiple uses. If we can reuse something, we do it. For example, when we bought a new flock of rubber ducks for our AdironDuck Race, we reused the old flock of 4,300 ducks as promotional items and gave them all away as retired racers.
After 27,000 meals, we composted 2,700 pounds of food
We modified two 400 gallon bins and started composting food scraps, leftovers, and napkins. We used pine shavings from our sawmill for carbon. It took us 4 weeks to get a quality composting “culture” to start up, but that was good timing. Before summer hit, the volume of food we composted increased dramatically.
In addition to our starter bins, we purchased a portable chicken coop and the Carthage FFA started up a small flock of chickens. We took possession of these birds in May and started feeding small batches of vegetable and fruit scraps. The chickens were small, so this part of the process moved slowly.
Once summer camp training started, we confirmed that our bins were not going to hold up under the load required. Luckily for us, the bins were designed to be emptied by tractor whenever needed. Each bin would be emptied 5 times throughout the summer. It was piled in the woods and mixed with manure and covered with sawdust.
During our first week of camp with 240 people to be fed, we produced just shy of 400 pounds of food. We weighed it after each meal, and determined that each camper was producing on average 1/10th of a pound of food waste & napkins per meal. As FFA Camp progressed, we ended up composting 1,950 pounds of food. We also composted another 400 pounds during our Saint Timothy’s Greek Orthodox Camp and we have averaged 50 pounds of compost a day with every other group that has come in before Labor Day.
With just the food and napkins composted from the dining hall, we estimate 2,700 pounds was kept out of landfills. This does not count the food that was recycled from the kitchen proper or for chicken feed. To add more to the grand total, we also composted all of the paper towels from our main bathrooms in Berkey Bathhouse. The only food items we did not compost were bones and grease.
As the chickens got bigger, they started eating a larger volume and variety of food scraps, including ham scraps which they loved. In an attempt to duplicate something I saw on the internet, we experimented with a chicken run. We used wire fencing to set up a large bin for the chickens to pick and scratch at bugs, food scraps, hay scraps, and horse manure. This idea seemed to work well, but we did get visits from a wood chuck that helped out. And Yes, we also received plenty of help from squirrels and chipmunks who would eat or stash food from our bins. I have found french fries stashed in trees up to 150 yards away from the bins.
Additionally, Oswegatchie offered classes on composting and chickens. Unfortunately, composting is not that exciting in comparison to high ropes and horses. We continued to offer classes, but started "hot composting minutes" at each meal. Our environmental educator would give out either instruction on how to compost or interesting trivia about composting. One example of interesting compost trivia included "Americans throw away about 10% of the food they buy at the supermarket. This results in dumping the equivalent of more than 21 million shopping bags full of food into landfills every year."
I may or may not have the “hoarder’s itch”, but I have always hated throwing things away. Since working at Oswegatchie has always had that “boot strapping” approach to money. I also hate paying to have things hauled away.
If you have been to Oswegatchie, you may be familiar with the vintage lean-tos at our campsites. Many of the log cabin style structures have been in place for over 50 years. Age has been good to most of these structures, but not at Rocks Campsite. A new lean-to had been put at that campsite in recent years, but the old one was in a tough place to remove. We had a group of volunteers finally dismantle the lean-to and get it to a landing near the dumpster. After a call to our local “waste hauler”, it was learned that a “C & D” dumpster was going to cost $1,000 to remove it. Since the metal roofing had been salvaged, it was just spikes holding it together. I was able to convince others that we could hide in the woods of our 1,200 acres, cover it with a combination of horse manure, active compost, and sawdust. My hope is that within a few years, the old logs will be just about disappeared! More importantly, we saved at least $1,000 that we can reinvest somewhere else.
About a week later, a compost and recycling expert who is familiar with the north country waste stream was here. I asked him what happens to construction debris that is taken to the landfill in Rodman. He told me it just goes into the working face of the landfill and takes up that space forever. So the second best news from this side project has been that we kept at least 1,500 pounds of debris out of the landfill on top of the estimated 2,700 of composted food waste we saved just from the dining hall.
The one thing that is crystal clear about composting is the disagreement about what can go in your compost. Most people try to avoid meat and dairy in their bins. Honestly, at a household level it is totally legitimate. We were able to minimize the meat going into our compost simply by not being wasteful. Dairy did go in, but as an ingredient in foods like pizza and pastas. I found that whenever pastas or breads went into the bins, the bins got “hotter faster”. This basically cancelled out any problems caused by the dairy products.
If I was not going to compost, I would recommend planning better menus for your home. Menus actually prevent you from spending too much at the grocery store and keep you from wasting it later. Anything that is food should be consumed as food. You are better planning ahead since every ounce of food you toss out is literally money that you are wasting.
However, if you are feeding up to 3,500 meals a week, you will have some waste. Sorting out meat and dairy would take too long. If its meat or dairy, you need to compensate with higher levels of carbon like leaves, sawdust, or whatever you are using for browns. It’s doable and honestly gets that compost pile HOT!
We plan to continue the composting effort. Cost savings are available as long as you are mindful of the composting / recycling process. The biggest change will be what we use for compost bins. Much larger wooden bins would allow us to compost with minimum effort to maintain the bins.
If you have 4 more minutes, watch the following video to see how Casella's Zero-Sort Recycling works. This is now how all recycling is handled in the northern New York region, including recycling from Oswegatchie.
Thank you to everyone that made this process easy to implement!