Close to home

Supplement - Organics | Composting Programs

Table to Farm Compost works to empower the community of Durango, Colorado, by reducing local waste.

Subscribe
October 7, 2020

Photo courtesy of Smithfield
Table to Farm Compost has grown operations thanks to its owners’ determination and the availability of local grants.

Originally founded in early 2016 by David Golden and Emily Bowie, Table to Farm Compost—a curbside organics collection program—was created with the goal of reducing household food waste in Durango, Colorado.

Golden and Bowie, who relocated to Durango from Carlyle, Pennsylvania, told The Durango Herald in 2016 that they “didn’t feel right about throwing away their food waste and thought others in the community probably felt the same.” This led to the idea of Table to Farm, which was made possible by the help of the owner of Sunnyside Farms in Durango, who provided space on a portion of the property for the two to run operations.

The duo grew the program for about two years and established a base of 119 customers before selling it to Monique DiGiorgio in 2018.

“I have another hat that I wear, which is as a director for a nonprofit called Local First,” says DiGiorgio, who has lived in Durango since the late 1990s. “It supports local, independent businesses, so through my connection with them, I found out [Golden and Bowie] were about to close down the business. I think there was maybe a 24-hour period between them saying, ‘Well, we’re moving … we’re going to shut it down,’ and [me] coming in and going, ‘OK, let’s figure out how to keep it going.’”

ORGANIC GROWTH

DiGiorgio says she built the business organically at first, with customers only finding out about Table to Farm’s services by seeing other green buckets on the street. But after obtaining almost 300 customers by the end of 2019, DiGiorgio says she became overwhelmed. She says she also considered selling the business due to demand—until her soon-to-be co-owner, Taylor Hanson, approached her to offer some aid.

Hanson, a Durango native, returned to the area in 2014 to co-manage his family business, a Honda automobile franchise, before launching himself into the compost business.

“Through the partnership between the two of us, we’ve been able to really make the business so much more than what it [previously] was,” DiGiorgio says. “Just that added capacity and Taylor’s focus on the business has given me a tremendous amount of support.”

Table to Farm has since grown to include roughly 400 customers who donate their food scraps to create healthier organic soil for farmers and gardeners. The service is $18 per month for customers to compost a 5-gallon bucket, but the company started a promotional deal earlier this year that gives customers the first month free as a way to remove the initial barrier to entry.

“It’s too cheap and easy to throw stuff into the trash,” DiGiorgio says regarding the cost of service. She adds that her and Hanson hope to eventually work with waste haulers and the city of Durango to level the playing field for composting in terms of cost, but a lack of equipment had hindered their ability to reduce service fees previously.

That issue was resolved in June, when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) took notice of DiGiorgio’s and Hanson’s efforts to reduce local food waste, granting Table to Farm more than $101,000 to help the company ramp up its production of artisan soil and help the state achieve its waste reduction goals.

“We were so pleased to support Table to Farm Compost in reducing waste in rural southwest Colorado,” Kendra Appelman-Eastvedt, program administer for Colorado’s Pollution Prevention Advisory Board, said in a release.

This investment plays into Colorado’s aim to divert 28 percent of solid waste from landfills into composting or recycling operations by 2021.

EXPANDING THE MARKET

Table to Farm used the grant to purchase new equipment that will help make its operations more efficient and able to handle a larger array of incoming items. According to DiGiorgio and Hanson, they can now grind, mix, sift and bag their compost by machine.

Included in the equipment the company purchased with the grant is a CEMCO Inc. glass crusher and a mixer.

“The artisan soil [we produce] includes crushed glass, biochar, sphagnum peat, kelp and chicken manure,” says Hanson. “A lot of the material is locally sourced, except for the kelp, in Colorado. A big part of Monique and I’s vision is to keep things local.”

The soil, which is Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) certified by the US Composting Council, is tested once every three months to ensure it is of the highest quality.

“We’re working with a soil chemist to dial in the recipe,” Hanson says. “They run it through pretty rigorous testing where they look at different chemical compounds and traces in the soil to make sure it’s up to snuff.”

DiGiorgio says ground-up glass, which helps with drainage for water, has been a great addition to their soil thanks to the new equipment. In addition, Hanson says the biochar helps to retain nutrients and disperses them over time for healthier soils.

In December 2019, Table to Farm Compost partnered with the grocery store Albertsons and the nearby community Twin Buttes to increase the amount of food waste they composted. According to The Journal, DiGiorgio and Hanson are also working with City Market to include the high-producing grocery stores in their composting program.

Jessica Trowbridge, a spokeswoman with City Market, told The Journal that the company has a zero-waste plan that aims to eliminate any waste created by the company by 2025.

“As part of eliminating waste, we have implemented composting programs in our stores across the state,” Trowbridge said. “We are currently engaged with Table to Farm and hope to bring this partnership to life in our Durango stores in the near future.”

MOVING FORWARD

Most recently, Table to Farm was awarded a $187,850 grant from CDPHE and the Environment’s Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity (RREO) infrastructure grant program to expand to a new site at Savannah Tree Farms in Durango.

“The state of Colorado’s continued support to reduce food waste in La Plata County has been invaluable, and allows us to dramatically ramp up the diversion and recycling of organics in the county through the creation of a Class III compost facility permitted by CDPHE,” says DiGiorgio in a release. “And, in addition to reducing food waste, we are positively impacting the climate. If food waste [emissions alone] were [attributed to a] country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter.”

The new compost facility, the first of its kind in La Plata County, will be four acres and allow for a potential throughput of approximately 32,000 cubic yards per year—a major increase compared to the existing site. Funds from the state of Colorado are assisting with the permitting, design and infrastructure development at the farm.

“This project is a huge win for the community,” says Hanson. “We are now working with La Plata County to permit the facility, and we are very hopeful that we will be up and running by this spring. The city and county, together, have been very supportive of one of our team’s goals, which is to make organics recycling more accessible in southwest Colorado.”

Hanson says him and DiGiorgio are both ultimately working to help create community awareness and education around the importance of composting.

“I think if we can educate people [on] some of the values [of composting], we hope to make it as mainstream in southwest Colorado as recycling is,” he says. “You don’t think about it, you just put your food scraps in a green bin; that’s a normal practice.”

The author is the assistant editor of Waste Today and can be reached at hrischar@gie.net.