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Recipe for a successful composting program at The CIA's Greystone campus: collaboration + student ingenuity + community outreach

The members of the Greystone Student Garden Project at The CIA's Saint Helena Campus have helped establish a composting program that makes use of the vegetable scraps generated in the teaching and restaurant kitchens. The compost is used in the student run garden that provides produce for their Saint Helena farmer's market booth and the CIA kitchens and conferences.

The composting project has recently been highlighted in the Upper Napa Valley Disposal and Recycling Summer Newsletter [PDF] for its focus on environmental stewardship and community outreach.

Establishing and maintaining a compost program has been extremely valuable from an educational standpoint. "As is the case with our student run garden project, the emphasis is on getting closer to our food systems, and recognizing the challenges and opportunities that they present," notes Dr. Chris Loss, Ventura Foods Chair of CIA's Department of Menu R&D. Dr. Loss also serves as faculty advisor for the student run Garden. "For example, handling vegetable scraps for the purposes of composting can create an environmental nuisance -the odor of compost and pests they can attract need to be taken into consideration. So the students found a place far enough away from our campus restaurants so this would not be an issue." The student Garden plot is about a mile north of the Greystone campus, a location that was ideal for the compost site.

One of the interesting opportunities that the compost program has presented is that it has increased awareness of waste streams, and of what gets used, and what doesn't. "The students might find a bunch of parsley or a whole green pepper untouched but tossed in the compost bin" points out Dr. Loss, "we can go back to the kitchen staff and try to understand why it didn't get used. If all of our waste went directly into the landfill, we would never know if something was being wasted or not. Our ultimate goal is minimize waste, and by monitoring it through composting, this can be achieved."

As a result of the composting program:

  • Students, faculty, and staff are learning about methods for waste disposal and the principles of composting
  • There is closer monitoring of vegetable scraps and unused produce, and therefore less waste in general
  • Students and faculty are working closely with the Greystone facilities management team to monitor and update the vegetable scrap collection protocols and maintain the off-site compost area. This collaboration has fostered valuable cross-departmental communications.

By being continuously vigilant, and distinguishing between compostable scraps, recyclables, and garbage destined for the landfill, the Greystone team has made environmental stewardship a part of their daily routine. By supplying the student Garden with local compost as a soil amendment, the produce used in the restaurant, and sold at the market, is full of flavor, and rich in nutrients. This project provides a great example of how members of the food service industry can be stewards of the environment, and financially sustainable at the same time.

CIA faculty and staff applaud the students who worked hard to get the program off the ground. "Their dedication, respect for their ingredients, and genuine concern for the environment, have fueled the Greystone composting program."

Garrett Benedict, graduate of AOS 3, who is now at Ubuntu in Napa, established the program by taking an evidence based approach to the issue. Every day for a 2 month period he went around to the different classes, requesting that they put aside their compostable materials, and then weighed the scraps that were being diverted from the landfill.

Weight of compostable materials diverted from the landfill

This collection, weighing, and recording process was enough evidence to convince operations that composting was feasible and could lower the cost of hauling waste to the dump (not to mention reduce the carbon foot print). Carlysle Watt (graduate of ACAP 9, and now personal chef for a family in Alaska) and Ross Warhol (graduate of B&P 56, now head chef at the Chautauqua Institute) were also integral to keeping the composting program and the compost piles themselves, alive and "cooking". On Saturday mornings these students, along with other garden club members, would head out to the garden and mix the vegetable scraps (the nitrogen source) with the lignin or carbon source (which is usually straw, dried leaves and grass) to build an active compost pile. For details on the composting process, see the poster slides that the students use at the Saint Helena Farmers to educate the public on the process.

This slide presentation [PDF] contains information on how to create a composting program for your restaurant or home, and includes some valuable resources for those interested in learning more about the topic.