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How’s Vermont doing with composting?

Brave Little State tackles a question from listener Bella Fearn, who's wondering how Vermont is doing with our (relatively) new composting mandate.

Food scraps have been banned from Vermonters’ trash since July of 2020. Bella Fearn asked Brave Little State: How’s that going?

Note: Our show is made for the ear. We recommend listening to the audio above if you can! We also provide a written version below. 

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A while back, Bella Fearn signed up for a tour at Green Mountain Compost, run by Chittenden Solid Waste District, in Williston — the largest compost operation in the state.

“I thought it was fascinating. I learned a ton,” she says.

Bella did this for pleasure. In her spare time. She’s that into composting.

“I love growing food. And I really love soil building. When we compost, it's such a full circle system,” she says.

Bella, who’s currently based in Burlington, but does a lot of her composting in South Hero, got really into the process in college. She went to Green Mountain College — a school in Rutland County that shut down in 2019.

“I was in the final graduating class there. And a big mission of the school, while it was still around, was sustainability,” she says. “So that's kind of what sparked my interest and my curiosity around the subject.”

Fast-forward to today, Bella works on climate change issues, and is a bit of a composting maven. Friends and family come to her for advice for managing their backyard piles. And she’s not above picking through the communal food scrap bins at her apartment building:

“I'll find myself oftentimes taking out my work gloves, and putting my arm into the compost, digging things out and thinking, this person had the right intent for sure. But they just didn't have the knowledge that they needed to be able to say, ‘OK this isn't compostable.’”

Coffee cup lids, stuff like that. And part of the reason this is so top of mind for Bella? Is because the proper disposal of food scraps is actually required by Vermont law. Act 148, Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law, says that you can’t throw your food scraps in the trash. That leaves Vermonters with a few options: Backyard composting (if you have space), curbside pickup (if it’s available where you live), or bringing your food scraps to your local transfer station. Bella is basically wondering how this is working out.

“How is the whole state doing, how are individuals doing?” she asks. “I know that people really want to do the right thing and people are excited to be making compost within their gardens. I also know that a lot of people just don't know how to compost.”

So Bella came to us, and asked a question that our audience then selected in a public voting round: “How is Vermont doing on composting? Are people and businesses really composting all their food scraps? How does this fight climate change?”

A picture of a person standing in green grass holding a red basket with a yellow hat on
Courtesy
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VPR
Question-asker and compost maven Bella Fearn of Burlington has questions about composting. Mainly: How is Vermont doing with the practice, and how can more people get the resources they need?

Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law was passed back in 2012. It went into effect in phases, over several years. First, recycling was banned from the landfill. Then leaf and yard debris and clean wood. The ban on food scraps came last. After years of build-up, it kicked in on July 1st, 2020.

Let’s just think back to that date for a second. What was top of mind for you in July 2020? Our guess? Is that it was not composting.

And for so many reasons, it's probably still not top of mind. That's where we come in.

Climate context

You might have noticed, when Bella Fearn asked her question, that she actually squeezed in three questions.“How is Vermont doing on composting? Are people and businesses really composting all their food scraps? How does this fight climate change?”

It’s a sneaky and fairly common move by a BLS question-asker. We support it. And we’re actually gonna start with Bella’s third question, about climate change. Because — and this is also sneaky, but decidedly less common — Bella already knows the gist of the answer. She just wants other people to know it, too.

“It's a really great way to mitigate some of the larger potential hazards of climate change — to compost, as opposed to just throw all of our food scraps in the garbage,” she says.

_

Composting mitigates climate change. (This was one of the reasons Vermont lawmakers unanimously passed Act 148 in the first place.) Because sending food to a landfill, where it can’t break down properly, results in the emission of methane.

“Methane has, I believe, 80 times the warming capacity of CO2,” Bella says.

This is true — on the short term, over about 20 years. Longer-term, over 100 years, methane is more like 30 times more potent. Either way, it’s basically carbon dioxide on steroids. Which is why a United Nations report released this May said that cutting methane is the best way to temper the climate crisis in the coming decades.

“And lots of methane comes from our waste systems,” Bella points out.

About a third of our country’s methane emissions come from landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Hence, composting. Another reason to do it? Bella puts it best:

“So, we throw our food scraps in a bin, we add the brown matter, we turn it, give it water and give it love. And then we're able to grow and create new food out of that.”

A quick note for all you at-home composters: Brown matter is stuff like leaves or wood chips. It’s got the carbon to balance out all the nitrogen in the green matter, a.k.a. your kitchen scraps. Here’s a rule of thumb: You’ve got to mix brown matter into your pile, and occasionally turn it to incorporate oxygen. Otherwise you too will be a methane producer.

“People have a lot of what is just food scraps rotting in their compost bin, and they don't know that they need to add brown matter, which is like leaves or newspaper,” Bella says.

“And I just think it's one of the more positive and hopeful aspects of fighting climate change. So I'm really passionate because I think it's such a fixable problem. It's such an interesting and fun issue. I can't explain how exciting it is for me to put my beautiful soil into my garden beds, and then a couple months later pick out tomatoes that I helped the full process with.”

When Bella talks about composting, it sounds so easy and fun. And while we were reporting this episode, we did hear from lots of people who feel the same way. But we also heard from people who do not enjoy dealing with their food scraps, or just who straight up aren’t following the law, either because they don’t want to or because they say they can’t. Including several people who replied to a query we posted on reddit. Here are a few comments:

And then there are people like Bob Aiken, of Essex Center. He composts, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

“Oh, it’s a pain in the neck. It’s such a small amount, but you can't keep it around the house, because there's no place to put it. You don't want to put it outdoors — you're inviting trouble. And I know it's for a good cause. So I do it, what the heck.”

If you hear yourself in any of these comments, no judgement. We’re here for you. And hopefully by the end of this episode you’ll feel more inspired to figure out a composting plan that works for you.

But for now, back to the first part of Bella’s question. As a state, how is Vermont doing with composting?

So how are we doing?

“I would say, as a state, we're doing very, very well.”

That’s the assessment of Josh Kelly, the materials management section supervisor within the Department of Environmental Conservation, solid waste program.

(If you’re a longtime listener, you may recognize Josh from our 2019 episode about what happens to Vermont’s recycling.)

If Vermonters are following the food scrap ban, we’d see an increase in the amount of food waste getting dropped off as compost at our transfer stations. And Josh says that’s exactly what’s happened, even in the years before the ban kicked in.

“The data we do get has historically shown year-over-year increases in food waste,” he says.

There has been one exception: last year, 2020. The year the food scrap ban went into effect, in July, and, of course, the first year of COVID. Actually, all our waste went down in 2020, though compost was down less than trash. Which Josh says is a good sign.

“Keep in mind this is just 2020. So, 2021 is going to have another asterisk on it, because COVID has continued,” Josh says.

Josh Kelly broke it to us that this annual data he’s referencing isn’t the most reliable, because it doesn’t capture everything that’s happening with Vermont’s waste. For that, we need to wait for the next big “waste composition study,” which isn’t due until 2023.

Until then, Josh told us that the next best thing is to talk to some people on the ground.

_

So, we called up a bunch of Vermont’s local waste management districts to see what kind of food scrap numbers they’ve been seeing.

Bob Spencer, with the Windham Solid Waste Management District, had this to report: “We have gone in the last five years from 500 cubic yards to 2,000 cubic yards [of compost]. We have now reached our permitted capacity. So there’s pretty hardcore evidence.”

Quadrupled food scraps over five years. Honestly, that was one of the smaller increases we heard about.

Michael Batcher, program manager for Bennington County Solid Waste Alliance: In 2017, we had 316 tons of organics collected. And in 2020, that was 7,647.”

Don Maglienti, program manager for Addison County Solid Waste Management District: “Since, 2019 we’ve had our food scrap collection grow by 370% just at our location.”

Esther Fishman, solid waste/recycling manager the Londonderry Group]: “In 2017 we collected 37 tons for the year. And just to show you a comparison, in 2020 we collected 62 tons.”

John Leddy, executive director of the Northwest Vermont Solid Waste Management District, reported that composting this past year was more than seven times greater than in 2013, the year the district began collecting composting data.

So, overall, a promising picture. No one is asserting that 100% of Vermonters are now separating their food waste and composting, but there’s a sense that we’re on a positive trajectory.

Diverting waste

Before we go any further, we want to point out that there’s another way to think about these numbers. Yes, sending more banana peels and coffee grounds to compost piles rather than landfills is good. We want those numbers to go up. But food waste? Like, stuff that could have been eaten? Ideally most of it doesn’t make it to the compost pile at all.

“I think even the composters in the state agree, we want to reduce the amount of food waste that there is,” says Natasha Duarte, the director of the Composting Association of Vermont and chair of the Farm to Plate food cycle coalition.

“There’s a lot of data out there that characterizes this, but throughout the US, the average family of four wastes about $1,500 of food annually,” Natasha says.

Not only is that a waste of money, it’s also a waste of all the resources that went into producing that food and getting it to your plate. So composting it is actually the last resort. Natasha Duarte walks us through all the options available before you take that step.

First up, is of course, changing your buying and consumption habits so you don’t end up with excess. Next? Donation — or, as some call it, food rescue.

“If you do have food that you're not going to be eating, whether it's the residential level or businesses … get it into the charitable food system if it's still good enough quality for human consumption,” Natasha says. “I think that's a really important piece, and I've talked to composters, who, you know, they're watching food scraps be tipped at their facilities. And it's, like, perfectly edible food. Even though composting is their business, they don't want to see this food ending up at their facility. [It’s] much better to share with hungry neighbors.”

The good news here is that the Vermont Foodbank has seen a big uptick in donations over several years leading up to the 2020 ban. And they do attribute that in part to the ban.

benefits-of-keeping-food-waste-out-of-the-landfill-courtesy-vermont-dec
Courtesy
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Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
This Vermont Department of Natural Resources graphic shows the environmental and economic benefits to keeping your food waste out of the landfill.

Meanwhile, Natasha Duarte says if you can’t donate your food, another option is to try to connect with a farm that could use it for animal feed — “for feeding poultry, for example, allowing hens to graze on compost.”

A fourth option that a lot of businesses use is anaerobic digestion, which can take byproducts from processes such as cheese-making or beer brewing and use that decomposition to produce energy.

And speaking of businesses, today’s episode is more focused on composting on the individual level, but we want to point everyone’s attention to a great piece from Seven Days, about a plant that Casella Waste Systems recently brought online that’s designed to process commercial food waste that’s still in its packaging. It’s worth a read.

A patchwork approach

Big picture: There are lots of ways to keep food out of the compost pile, in a good way. As for the food scraps that do need to decompose, again, Vermonters have options. Backyard piles. Maybe some curbside pickup. Transfer stations.

“One of the things that I tell people I love about composting is it can be done micro-scaled or really big,” says Natasha Duarte. “For a state like Vermont, I think we need that patchwork approach. You know, what works in Chittenden County is not going to work in the Northeast Kingdom, or in Rutland County or other places. And so we really need, I think, as many varieties as we can.”

But all that variety can also be overwhelming. And part of it has to do with the way this law was written. For example: After pressure from trash haulers, it was amended to only require haulers to offer food scrap pickup under certain conditions. They’ve got to offer collection to “nonresidential customers and apartment buildings with four or more residential units unless another hauler will provide that service.” Confusing, right?

Here’s Josh Kelly with the state again:

“Essentially what haulers wanted was, ‘We want the market to work, let the market figure it out. If somebody else wants to do it, great.’”

Josh says about 70% of Vermont towns do now have the service. But still, that’s not total coverage. There's also some confusion about backyard composting. We heard from people who don't compost in their backyard because they don’t want to attract animals. But to be clear: According to the law, backyard composters are allowed to throw out meat and bones to avoid this issue. Or, you could do what BLS host Angela Evancie does: Freeze your bones in a bag and bring them to the transfer station when you bring the rest of your recycling.

Because, again, with a few minor exceptions, your transfer station will take your food scraps — meat and bones included. But what if you don’t feel like driving all the way over there?

Enter: the free market. Josh Kelly says the number of residential haulers in the state has almost quadrupled since Act 148 was enacted.

“And that's how some people got started,” he says, “[with] a small pickup truck and a trailer and they're off and running.”

From COVID unemployed to compost entrepreneur

“When it started, I was the only person being like, ‘Oh, I’ll pick up your compost at your house with a bucket,’” says Zach Cavacas.

Zach runs Music Mountain Compost, a one-man hauling operation in central Vermont. Just him, his Toyota Tacoma, and an 8-foot trailer with buckets in the back.

We meet up with him in Rochester one afternoon in December to make a few pickups on his route.

At a single-family home on Corporation Road, Zach grabs a tall bin of food scrap from the front yard and drags it up onto his trailer. He definitely provides a bespoke service.

A picture of a person in a yellow safety vest with a blue barrel and multi-colored food below them.
Evancie
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VPR
Zach Cavacas started Music Mountain Compost when Vermont's food scrap ban kicked in. "I feel really lucky and grateful that that mandate provided an opportunity for me to make a living for my family," he says.

“A lot of my customers, some of them have physical limitations, or they’re elderly, so I’ll actually go right up to their house, and drive up their driveway,” he says. “I mean, some of them I have to go inside their house to get their bucket because they can’t lift it. So I try to accommodate everybody.”

Zach makes about 50 pickups a day, driving 200 or 250 miles on each route. Mostly residential, picking up five-gallon buckets from people’s houses. He also has some business accounts. And he’s started subcontracting for Grow Compost of Vermont, a much larger outfit in Waterbury.

“Grow Compost got bought out by Casella’s recently. And because this is such a rural area … they subcontracted me to do a supermarket and a restaurant and both the schools in the area,” Zach says. “It’s kind of flattering that they called me, and it’s cool being able to work with companies such as them, versus being scared of them, like, stomping me out, you know?”

If you sense some pride on Zach’s behalf, and maybe some disbelief, it’s because he has never done anything like this before. And he wouldn’t have, if it weren’t for the pandemic. Before COVID, he had a totally different career.

“I was working at a rehab facility. I'm in recovery from drugs and alcohol. So it was something that I wanted to eventually get into,” he says. “So I'd gotten my dream job, you know, working in a rehab facility, and I was there about a year and a half. And then COVID hit. I got let go. So I was pretty devastated, obviously.”

Zach was unemployed, at home, in Stockbridge. In the middle of June, he started reading up on this food scrap ban that was about to kick in.

“I started doing a little research, and I realized, some people actually pick up residentially, and people pay you to do it,” he says. “Based off of that, solely based off, like, I don't know, a couple days of research, I bought this trailer with all the money I'd saved from unemployment. And I started the business July 1. I got my permit from the state, and basically just started throwing up Facebook posts, because I've never advertised anything. So it was kind of a crapshoot. But the response was tremendous.”

By August, Zach had 200 customers. He was teaching himself as he went, and getting guidance from the state.

“I didn't know anything about nothing,” he confesses. “[I’d] had chickens, but I've never made soil before. And I didn't know people were even going to care about the service.

“It can be overwhelming, almost … I feel like so many people had such a bad time in this pandemic. And I feel really lucky and grateful that that [food scrap] mandate provided an opportunity for me to make a living for my family.”

By this point in our interview Zach has taken us up to his compost pile, on the shoulder of Jerusalem Hill. He has an arrangement with an old family farm here, the Brown Farm. Stuart Brown came out while we were talking.

“We haven't been doing it that long. But I'm looking forward to some organic fertilizer for the farm,” he said. “And [Zach]’s having a good time with plenty of room to do his business.”

Now it’s time for Zach to dump everything he’s collected today, so he gets to work pulling bins out of his trailer. As he works, he manually sorts out any trash. Then it’s time to add brown matter, which – anyone remember that term from earlier?

“We put a little bit of old hay, I have a bunch of bags of leaves and sawdust to pile in,” Zach explains. “So basically, I cover it up with all those three things. And then we let it sit. At the end of the week, we push it up into that pile there.”

Eventually Zach will be able to bag this compost and sell it.

Another operation that sells its compost – on a much larger scale – is Green Mountain Compost, in Williston. That’s the place our question-asker Bella had visited, and she recommended we take the tour. So we did.

Meanwhile, back at Green Mountain Compost…

One thing we learned on this tour? If we’re talking composting on the largest scale Vermont has to offer, this is the place.

Our tour guide, Michele Morris, is director of marketing and communications at Chittenden Solid Waste District, the home of Green Mountain Compost.

“You could say in 2021, [CSWD's drop-off centers] collected about 1,100 tons of food scraps,” she says.

We're walking through bays of compost, all in various stages of break-down. And some of the sights at this place are both hulking and beautiful. Like, 12-foot piles of compost, broken down and sorted into rows so perfectly they almost look like chocolate cake, and the snow like powdered sugar sprinkled on top.

And it is cold. As a producer starts to lose some feeling in her fingers, Michele offers a little warm-up, near an active compost pile that she estimates is around 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

three people in yellow safety vests standing in white snow and brown compost that is steaming. One of the people is touching the compost.
Mike Dunn
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VPR
Michelle Morris, director of marketing and communications at Chittenden Solid Waste District, encourages engagement producer Myra Flynn to warm her hands in a bed of steaming compost.

Happy, steaming, feasting, reproducing microbes are compost goals here at this facility. So that’s the good part of the tour. The bad part? There’s a lot of stuff here that shouldn’t be.

Michele digs around in a compost container and finds an example.

“This is the kind of stuff we don't want,” she says. “Somebody had some bread or something and they just left the plastic wrap around it. And so that is definitely not something you want in food scraps.”

What are other common intruders? Michele says sometimes she finds Styrofoam, which is really just more plastic.

Michele’s mantra for things you should and shouldn't compost is pretty simple.

“If it was once alive, and now it isn't, it can go in to be composted,” she says. “But otherwise we don't want it.”

And she says when people do try to compost non-compostable things, well…

“You'll see what happens when we get up to the compost facility. OK? We’ll hold you in suspense until then.”

A total waste of waste

We don’t have to wait longer than the next compost bay to see what Michele means.

You know that song — one of these things is not like the other? This next pile we see is not all happy steaming microbes. It’s full of silverware.

Like, come on people.

A picture of a pile of rocks, forks and spoons
Myra Flynn
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VPR
One of these piles is not like the other! Discarded silverware, which is decidedly not compostable, fills a bay at Green Mountain Compost in Williston.

“We know a lot of that comes from institutional places, colleges, schools, maybe restaurants,” Michele says.

Unlike at a tiny operation like Music Mountain Compost, the compost loads here are just too big to sort through manually. Michele notes that when an overly-contaminated load of compost finds its way to CSWD (which she says doesn’t happen often), it becomes a total waste — of waste — because it ends up having to go to the landfill anyway. And a little silverware here or there can mean broken machinery.

“Obviously, that's not something we want running through our machinery,” she says. “Or for sure, not in your compost that we're selling to people.”

Problems with packaging 

So, silverware is the kind of stuff that ends up at Green Mountain Compost because of people’s carelessness. But some of the other material that shouldn’t be here is here because of people’s confusion.

We’re talking about the packaging around your food that seems like it should be compostable. But are you sure it is? Like really, really sure?

“One of the problems is, it has been a little bit of the wild west out there and a lot of [packaging] terms have been thrown around that don't mean anything,” Michele notes, listing degradable, oxo-degradable and biodegradable as just a few examples of those confusing terms.

This is another message that our question-asker Bella really wanted to get at: that a lot of single-use packaging is "green-washed,” in her words, and most people don't understand the difference between that stuff and truly compostable foodware. Michele puts it this way:

“Compostable is the only term that really is legit in this world.”

“People see a cup in a bin and they assume all cups can go in that bin,” Michele says. “And then when it comes to us as a 13-ton load, there's no way we can sort through that and say, ‘Oh, this is a legitimate cup. This is a plastic cup, or this is a paper cup lined with plastic.’”

By the time this episode comes out, Green Mountain compost will no longer be accepting any type of compostable foodware.

The reason compostable foodware has become a problem here, Michele says, isn’t because the material doesn’t break down properly. “It’s because it was a gateway for all kinds of look alike trash.”

“We started out accepting [compostable foodware] because, like others, we were like, ‘Oh, that'll help us get more food.’ And that's our goal. Well, now we're just overwhelmed by it.”

There’s a mix of frustration and compassion in Michele’s voice. Even on a large-scale level, the best that can be done regarding waste management is only as good as the best that people can do. At the end of the day, Michele acknowledges that this policy is still new for folks. People are still figuring it out.

Enforcement?

This is a dynamic our question-asker Bella is well aware of.

“In general, I just felt like there was this incredible law passed, but there's still so many loose ends, it feels like from what I'm seeing, to tie up,” she says. “The people don't have the knowledge, the people don't understand what to do with their food scraps. Biodegradable [versus] compostable [foodware], it's just not clear, people don't know what products to buy. So I would also just love to know what the state is doing to make sure that people and businesses are not only complying with the law, but have the right information to be able to comply with it.”

So here’s the deal. In terms of enforcement? So far no one – not the people who are still trashing their food waste, not the fork people — has gotten in trouble.

“I want to be clear to listeners that we're not ripping open residential garbage bags looking for banned items. We don’t have the capacity to do that,” says Josh Kelly, with the department of environmental conservation. “But we do direct outreach to the largest producers of food waste generally. And we also follow up on complaints that we receive.”

Does the state issue fines?

“They're possible. They absolutely are. But we have not issued any to date,” Josh says. “Again, voluntary compliance is our goal. And I can say we in 90-plus percent of the cases were able to get that.”

Rather than focusing on penalties, Josh says the state is focused on outreach and education. He ticks off a number of campaigns and initiatives.

So why does Bella still feel like some people don’t have the composting knowledge they need?

We asked Josh if any of the state’s outreach has involved trying to contact every single Vermont resident with, say, a mailer.

“We have not sent mailers. But what we have done is worked with our local governments,” Josh says. “We have printed, oh, gosh, hundreds of flyers and stuff, not mailing them, but usually using them at transfer stations as handouts, or at other outreach events. We've given discounted grants to our solid waste districts to do home compost bin sales at about 50% of the cost … So there's been a whole host of effort to get out the word.”

A lot of the waste experts we talked to for this story compared composting to recycling. Recycling used to seem like a hassle and a fringe practice. Now, for most people, it’s second nature. But that kind of culture shift takes time.

“It's a constant effort,” Josh says. “I mean, nobody's going to be surprised by my answer here, but COVID certainly sucked up the news cycle on a lot of things. And so what I want to say to folks, if I can say nothing else: Send your friends, your professors, your employers to VTrecycles.com, where they can learn about recycling, about the food waste law, it's all front and center right there. And then check with your solid waste district — 802recycles.com is the webpage where you can find your town, your alliance of towns.

“It's not surprising to me that some people still don't know, but this is a constant process, we need to keep doing it. So call us, we’re here: 828-1138 is our number. We’ll be happy to take your calls and questions."

Conscious composting

If that wasn’t enough of a pep-talk from Josh Kelly, we’re gonna wrap up by introducing you to two people who are composting against all odds: Candace Taylor and her partner Tony Berry. They own Conscious Homestead, a BIPOC urban farm and wholeness retreat in Winooski that works to provide community care, mutual aid and healing for BIPOC.

The farm is centered in a city (with all city critters in tow) on a fraction of an acre, and their business model is predicated on, well, food. And lots of it. Candace and Tony love to compost, and make no bones about what they do with their ... bones.

“The chickens are really our first line of composting, so they will probably eat 90% of the stuff that we need to compost,” Tony says. “And they're like piranhas. I mean, they'll even take like a Thanksgiving turkey and just strip it to the bone. They're crazy.”

Looking at the front of Conscious Homestead, you’d have no idea what’s going on in the backyard. Back there, they have those crazy chickens, a full-on home composting setup, as well as some advanced composting processes, such as worms and these alien– looking pitcher plants.

“They are also little composters,” Candace says about the pitcher plants. “Yeah, these are carnivorous plants. Nature is really smart. If you look at nature, you'll see how often they do things like composting, too. So many amazing things come from just the ways in which the planet already intellectually knows how to take care of itself. I think we're the only ones who are struggling, and we're supposed to be the smartest ones.”

A picture of a person in a brown sweater pointing at some green plants in the background
Brian Stevenson
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VPR
Candace Taylor points to some of the plant-life in her greenhouse at Conscious Homestead, a BIPOC urban farm and wholeness retreat in Winooski.

Candace tells us that at Conscious Homestead, their compost begets more compost.

“Being a land-based space, we grow a lot of really beautiful organic food and herbs that we share with the community for free.”

We did the math and worked out what it took to get Candace and Tony started with composting. A bin, some chickens, a worm-farm and some plants cost them about $200, initially. And Candace more than acknowledges that this number can be a lot or a little, depending on the person.

She also says you can do this without spending anything.

“I also want you to know that you don't need any of that if you want to compost but you don't have the $50 right now for that structure or compost bin. You can still compost, have a bucket, bring it down to [the Williston drop-off center at] CSWD —that's free. You don't even need to buy a fancy bucket that says compost on it. You can literally even collect it in a Ziploc bag that you have and put it in the freezer. And then when you're ready, you bring those bags of compost down, and you put them in CSWD. So I want to just also speak to the people out there that are on a budget — because I know what that's like — to know that you can do this and not have to pay any money.”

Conscious Homestead is impressive. It seems like top to bottom, they really have it all figured out. But Candace and Tony don’t want you to be intimated — they want you to be inspired.

And in a time when it can feel like our world is falling apart, it’s nice to hear this kind of optimism. That there’s something good we can do.

“We compost because all of that does not need to go into the landfill, it does not need to go into our waters, you know what I mean?" Candace says. "That can also then become beautiful soil and be a part of creating new life for food, you know, life for our plants and things like that. So it's not that hard. And it's way more accessible than sometimes we might think.

“And something that we try to teach a lot here too is, don't ‘All or nothing’ yourself. Don't say ‘Oh, I want to do this and I want to do that. But I need the full setup.' No. We have to do our part in this life to make not only the planet healthier, but our relationships with each other healthier and our relationships to the planet healthier. We can all compost.”

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Credits

Thanks to Bella Fearn for the great question.

This episode was reported, produced and mixed by Angela Evancie and Myra Flynn, with editing help from Josh Crane and engineering support from Peter Engisch. Ty Gibbons composed our theme music, other music by Blue Dot Sessions.

Special thanks to Matt Stuart, Krystyna Oszkinis, Ham Gillett, Mary O’Brien, Lexi Krupp, Bob Kinzel, Kyle Ambusk, Mike Dunn and Brian Stevenson.

As always, our journalism is better when you’re a part of it:

Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public Radio.

Angela Evancie is Vermont Public's Director of Engagement Journalism and the Executive Producer of Brave Little State, the station's people-powered journalism project.
Myra Flynn joined Vermont Public as an engagement producer in March 2021. Raised in Vermont, Myra Flynn is an accomplished musician who has come to know the lay of dirt-road land that much more intimately through touring both well-known and obscure stages all around the state and beyond. She also has experience as a teaching artist and wore many hats at the Burlington Free Press, including features reporter and correspondent, before her pursuits took her deep into the arts world. Prior to joining Vermont Public, Myra spent eight years in the Los Angeles music industry.
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