By: Billy Mitchell

Soil gives us so much. It feeds us physically by providing incredible local food to eat. It feeds us emotionally as a medium for beautiful flowers that are feasts for our eyes and hearts. It even feeds us spiritually, giving us soft grass to picnic on with loved ones and trees perfect for relaxing and meditating under. It only makes sense that we’d want to give back and feed the soil, too. One way to do that? Make and incorporate compost! For many communities in urban and peri-urban areas, there is a lot of interest in cultivating a culture of compost but options are often limited. Thankfully, farms and compost companies in metropolitan areas across the country are stepping up to help consumers get a little more connected to their soil—and soil amendments.

On a recent webinar hosted by the Local Food Safety Collaborative (an FDA-funded initiative to provide training, education, and technical assistance to local food producers) a few soil-amendment-stars shared how they help take consumers’ leftovers and turn them into food for the soil. Alma Rominger of Compost Queens in Texas uses a form of Bokashi composting to help residents in the San Antonio area take their food waste and “build nutrient-rich soil to enhance the sustainability of the local food cycle.” According to their website, “Bokashi translates loosely as fermented organic matter…[and] is the method of fermentation that Compost Queens uses before they hot compost at our partner farms.” Hot composting, as growers who have taken the Produce Safety Alliance Grower training know, might involve an aerated static compost pile reaching 131 degrees Fahrenheit for three consecutive day or a turned compost pile reaching 131 F for 15 days (not necessarily consecutive) and turning that pile at least five times to ensure it has processed to completion. But homeowners working with Compost Queens don’t need to sweat those details! Instead, they help prep the ingredients for future hot piles by using small, airtight buckets in their homes that are great for odor control and pest prevention. Rominger shared that the biggest complaint about composting can be the smell and pests—thankfully, both these problems are greatly reduced and often even eliminated by using their Bokashi system.

“What’s up with the smell?” That’s a question that Khari Diop, the Community Compost Learning Lab Manager for the Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture, has heard often. That’s why they actively manage the composting area out at their farm, regularly turning and incorporating compost ingredients that come from community members to not only reduce the smell but also create a quality amendment that helps build the soil at their farm as well as at other growing areas across the metro Atlanta area. Truly Living Well is known for its education and outreach efforts within the community, and that aspect is important to Maria Vaughan of Code of Return (COR) Compost, as well. As Maria explains, “success [in building soil health] will only come about by offering proper education and creating awareness.” For COR and their customers, it’s also just exciting to be “taking perceived waste and turning into a natural resource.”

Are you feeling the same excitement about composting? If you’re in Texas or Georgia, reach out to Compost Queens, Truly Living Well, or COR. Not in those states? Check in with your state Farmers Union chapter, Extension office, or local farm organization! Excited about food safety? Please visit the Local Food Safety Collaborative website along with the Food Safety Resource Clearinghouse for a curated source of food safety guides, factsheets, templates, and more. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on the latest food safety news.

This project website is supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award 1U01FD006921-01 totaling $1,000,000 with 100 percent funded by FDA/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by FDA/HHS, or the U.S. Government.

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