The Local Crowd Upper Valley helped two businesses team up to close the carbon loop.
The Local Crowd is a Laramie, WY-based nonprofit that works with rural communities to create local crowdfunding chapters that support the growth and sustainability of local businesses and organizations. One of those chapters is The Local Crowd Upper Valley, which Vital Communities launched in 2019.
Two of the local chapter’s first crowdfunding efforts were garbage – literally. OK, to be more polite, food scraps. Vermont had ruled that, starting in July 2020, food scraps could no longer go in trash going to landfills. In 2019, Jen Murphy of Wilder VT started Willow Tree Community Compost, which does curbside collection of food scraps for composting. Along with sustainability consultant Cat Buxton, Murphy talked to Chuck Wooster, owner of nearby Sunrise Farm, about taking the scraps. This grew into an idea of building a licensed, large-scale composting facility at Sunrise that would also take food scraps from the 400 members of its CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) so they could dump their scraps when coming to pick up their weekly produce. To cap it off, the facility would be roofed with solar panels that would supply the farm’s electricity needs.
“We’ve always composted animal manure and veggie waste and stuff that we had lying around,” Wooster told the Valley News. “It’s something that we’ve always done, but what we really wanted to be able to do was take food scraps back, initially from our CSA members, but also from the community at large.”
Capital was needed, and The Local Crowd Upper Valley stepped in, raising more than $4,000 for Willow Tree, which substantially funded its expansion, and about $5,000 for Sunrise. That $5,000 – plus the public awareness the campaign inspired – helped Sunrise obtain an additional $20,000 in Vermont state grants to build the facility.
The 1,600-square-foot project was built and began operating in December 2020, taking in scraps from Sunrise members and about a ton a week from Willow Tree, which collects from 200 households, two restaurants, and three businesses. Wooster estimates the composter will save Sunrise up to $10,000 a year in organic fertilizer costs, and the solar array provides 100% of the farm’s electricity needs.
“The nice thing about this system is that it’s taking all those nutrients from the food scraps that often would just go into a landfill or into a garbage disposal in the sink,” Murphy told the Valley News. “If you aren’t recovering them all, a farmer has to go outside of their loop and bring in fertilizer or buy compost from another facility. We’re just recovering all the nutrients instead of having them sit in a landfill where they anaerobically decompose.”
“Farming is, at its core, carbon management,” Wooster wrote in a Sunrise blog post. “We take sunlight, mix it with carbon (from the air) and water (from the soil), and create food. Might be direct crops like carrots and potatoes, or indirect ones like eggs and lamb, or indirect-indirect ones like honey and venison. Done properly, farming mimics the natural ecosystem around itself and adds carbon to the soil as a result of its activities. Compost, cover crops, rotational grazing, minimal tillage, and thoughtful management of adjacent forests and lands are all tools in the sustainable toolbox. …The compost facility allows us to take food scraps from our community and turn them back into food. Pretty straightforward.”