The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Can D.C. Schools Compost Their Food Waste?

March 21st, 2010 · 5 Comments · Posted in garden

Commercial-grade compost from local food waste

Commercial-grade compost from local food waste

I was involved in a fascinating conference call this week discussing the possibility of D.C. schools turning their food wastes into compost we gardeners can use rather than sending it to a landfill.

Composting food scraps from schools is foreseen in the “Healthy Schools” legislation pending before the D.C. Council. But apparently Chartwells, the contracted food service provider for D.C. Public Schools, wants to start something now. Also in on the call was Kelly Melsted of the D.C. Department of Recreation as well as a representative from a company called Envirelation, which already collects food waste from a number of hotels, restaurants, universities and schools in Alexandria and trucks it to a facility in Maryland to be turned into compost.

According to J.P. Masten, the Enviralation rep, the company has already talked with people in schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s office as well as staff for Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), author of the “Healthy Schools” bill. What the company really needs, besides a green light to start collecting food wastes from city schools, is “brown” matter to balance the food scraps–such as the leaves the city collects in the fall–and a site not too far away to start a composting operation.

Someone needs to step forward and be a real hero, connecting those tons of leaves the city collects with the tons of food waste city schools generate every day. Let Envirelation turn it into compost, then make it available to the city’s gardeners who are so desperate to put all that organic matter back into the soil where it can do some real good.

Hello, D.C. Public Works! Are you reading this?

Later I got an e-mail from Masten saying he had a truck in my area delivering some of Envirelation’s compost and did I want some. I could hardly say no. So here you see the pile of rich compost that was left in my driveway yesterday, about twice as much as I really needed. I spent the rest of the day hauling it into my garden. I used some of it to make a long hill for potatoes. I’m thinking of a second hill for sweet potatoes. I’ll have enough to take care of all of my vegetable beds for the season and then some.

Sometimes you just don’t know where your compost is going to come from. But we could make organic gardening in the District more secure by jumping on this chance to put D.C. schools and Envirelation together.

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  • Carl Rollins

    This is an idea that is long overdue. Of course, San Francisco just instituted city-wide composting under the pain of a hefty fine.

    The city already collects and “composts” its leaves. They make the resulting “leaf mulch” available for free. Wood chips are usually available for free from tree cutting companies and Pepco; this satisfies the “browns” requirement. There’s no reason why the school system can’t do this and use it as a teaching tool. There’s no reason the city can’t do this and sell the compost for the benefit of the kids. DPW can do it also, of course.

    But let’s step back and look at three critical things:

    1. As was discussed at one of the Healthy Schools Act working groups at the DC Council, the way Chartwell’s is using extremely processed food shipped from all over the country are there really enough “greens” (vegetable scraps) to do this now on an industrial scale?

    2. I prefer a closed-loop system similar to the one employed by Will Allen at Growing Power in Milwaukee that’s about to be replicated in nearby PG county by a friend who has studied under Allen. Only by combining year-round hoop house farming,vermiculture, large-scale composting to feed the worms, working in an interrelated system such as aquaponics with various product lines (some value-added) can urban farming be commercially viable and produce green jobs.

    3. And if a company is going to make money off of institutional food waste I’d prefer that it be a DC-owned company with strong social justice and social entrepreneurship roots. Perhaps this one fits the bill. As far as we know, this company may be subsidized by the hotel industry. It may be some multi-state set up with few local roots. I prefer local economic and community development to create jobs for our most deprived citizens.

    Perhaps we should raise some money and send some local kid out to Growing Power to learn how to do this instead!


  • Pattie

    Ed: I missed this post. That is a priceless photo! What an amazing treasure for you to receive.

  • Ed Bruske

    Pattie, believe it or not, I hauled this entire pile of compost up into my yard, two buckets at a time. Even more incredible, we’ve used almost the entire pile in the garden. I think there will be enough of a small heap left to plant some squash.

  • John

    Envirelations just dumps the scraps into a landfill anyways. Ask them where they take it? I know because I did. They said they take it to a transfer facility. Not a organic waste facility. Bull crap

  • Walker Lunn

    Hi Folks,

    We really appreciate the positive feedback and buzz about the work we are doing. John, I invite you to come and visit with me and I would be glad to show you what we do. You will be pleased to learn that we do not take our material to transfer facilities or landfills.

    To answer some of the questions raised, we’ve been in business for almost 5 years. We’re a start up I have built from the ground up, and are a for-profit operation. We make money by charging restaurants for our services. They use us because they are able to reduce their trash expenses and save money, in addition to being “green.”

    Feel free to visit our website at or email us at with any questions you may have.

    Walker Lunn
    Managing Member,
    EnviRelation, LLC