Compiled by Jodi La Marco
Eileen Banyra, founder of Community Compost Company, has always understood the importance of soil. “As a child, I was interested in organic gardening. I think I had a subscription to organic gardening magazine when I was eight years old. I threatened to rototill my family’s front yard and put in manure,” she jokes.
After receiving an undergraduate degree in environmental studies, Banyra went on to complete her Master’s degree in city planning at Rutgers University. For the next 30 years, she worked as a city planner in New Jersey, but in 2008 she decided it was time to pursue a new track. “I didn’t feel like I could do enough environmentally by doing city planning anymore. I was working on really specific, site-by-site projects,” she says. “I loved the profession, but I was not happy with just another green roof.”
Banyra started taking courses at the Pfeiffer Center and the Rodale Institute on subjects such as biodynamics. During a class at the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center in Albany, something clicked. “They were talking about composting, which I had always done, but they were talking about it as a business. I thought about all of the sustainability plans I had reviewed and written in the Hudson Valley and New Jersey, and the open space committees and preservation boards I had served on. Everything started to congeal,” Banyra recalls. “It just made perfect sense for me to farm soil. It solves so many problems.”
According to the USDA, a whopping 30 to 40 percent of the country’s food supply is discarded. Not only does this result in squandered resources, uneaten food often ends up in landfills. In 2015, the EPA reported that 15.1 percent of the municipal solid waste generated in the U.S. was food. Composting reduces the burden on landfills and acts as a climate mitigation strategy. “In addition to removing the organics, we are restoring the soil, and by restoring the soil we are actually storing additional carbon,” Banyra explains.
In 2013, Community Compost Company was incorporated, and Banyra ran a pilot program in the City of Hoboken, New Jersey. “I started by doing collections at farmers’ markets, and it just kept growing,” she says. By 2014, the company was up and running in earnest.
Here in the Hudson Valley, CCC has drop-off spots at both the Marbletown and Woodstock/Saugerties transfer stations, as well as door-to-door service in a few high-density areas such as New Paltz and Kingston. Customers using the pick-up service are given a five-gallon bucket in which to store their food scraps. “Volumetrically, a five-gallon bucket doesn’t look like a lot, but a five-gallon bucket could end up holding 40 pounds of material. The average household is really generating more like 11 pounds,” Banyra explains.
Separating food scraps from the rest of their trash often encourages households to develop better habits. “You learn not to waste food. Statistically, families throw away between $1,500 and $2,000 a year in wasted food. When you know how much you throw out, you start buying right. You’ll save money and you won’t overbuy,” Banyra says.
Community Compost does house-to-house pick-ups on a limited scale in the Hudson Valley, but its service in New York is primarily commercial. Local businesses such as The Anchor, Village Coffee, and Tubby’s in Kingston, Bread Alone Café and Shindig in Woodstock, and Quinn’s, Beacon Natural Market, and Homespun Foods in Beacon all use Community Compost’s commercial pick-up service. The Woodland Pond retirement center in New Paltz and the Livingston Street Early Childhood Community and Hillside Nursery School in Kingston are also customers. “We’re getting a lot of calls from schools,” Banyra says.
Once the material is collected, it’s brought to Arrowhead Farm in Kerhonkson where it is added to aerated static piles (ASP). “Imagine that your fist is a blower, and your fingers are perforated pipes (we call them laterals). Air is important to keep the material aerobic, which reduces smells and keeps the microbes happy. I have anywhere from 40 to 60 feet of pipe coming off of a blower. I put wood chips on top of the holes in the pipes, and raw compost on top of the wood chips. I top the pile with finished compost,” Banyra says. Manure is also added to the mix. Each pile is eight to twelve feet wide, approximately eight feet high, and 60 feet long. Incredibly, these massive mounds break down into useable compost in just 30 days. The finished product is sold through Hudson Soil Company, which Banyra co-founded with Noa Simons.
Of course, the most important part of making compost is using it. “A lot of people are composting in their backyards, but if you’re not spreading that compost, you’ve only done half the job. Compost is really important for the health of the soil,” Banyra stresses. “The full system involves taking food waste and using it to restore the soil and grow good food. It’s a common sense and a systems approach to organics recycling. You grow the food, you eat the food, you take what’s left over and make really good compost, then you spread the compost and grow more food. And, if you have good compost, you’re actually storing carbon in the soil, too. To me, that’s the best environmental thing I can do.”