Safe, Successful Small-Scale Composting in a Pandemic

Back in the beforetimes . . .

Compostville at the Garden at 485 Elm was built from 2017 to 2019 with help from a generous grant and partners including the Vermont Community Garden Network, the Composting Association of Vermont, and the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District, and administered by the New England Grassroots Environment Fund.

We certainly didn’t incorporate pandemic considerations. Still, that’s what happened, so that’s what we’re doing now.

In May 2020, Compost Team dug into Compostville for the first time this season—and the first time during COVID-19. We instituted the same safety rules as in the community garden. But that wasn’t enough.

COVID-19 resources from the Composting Association of Vermont awoke us to the game-changing difference between the garden and Compostville is exposure to feedstocks (the food scraps gardeners will bring). The novel coronavirus brings potential for infection via aerosolized pathogens. Thus, no at-risk team members or the general garden population will contact feedstocks.

Two compost team members who are not high-risk, and who have more community exposures than many of us, volunteered to collected and process feedstocks using PPE, distancing, and the safest practices we can determine. Without these two volunteers, Compostville would not be able to accept food scraps amid the pandemic.

The garden’s compost team met masked and at a safe distance. Seven of us stood close enough to talk and work, but too far apart to appear in one photo.
At left, Caitlin and Alex examine food scraps, still in their buckets from the end of last season. Chris has a look in bin 2. Bin 1 is the green tumbler to the left of bin 2.
The first piece of work was emptying the contents of the Jora tumbler, which we were fortunate to have received as part of a regional pilot project. On this day, the Jora contained all gardeners’ food scraps from the end of last season, which had overwintered in there.
What came out of the Jora looks compost-y, but . . .
Chunks of partially processed food scraps, not nearly finished compost, are what came out of the Jora tumbler. It’s a good start, but needs to cook further.
Once the Jora’s contents were in bin 2, Chris did the compost moisture squeeze test and determined it needed water.

This is how team members move compost from one bin to another.

Next steps: Making signs, arranging food scrap drop-off days and scheduling teamwork of taking the compost’s temperature, turning the tumbler, and writing notes in the compost logbook. With a great team like this and the ongoing support of our grant partners, we will succeed in continuing our mission to

  • Turn garden waste and gardeners’ food scraps into nutrients that feed this garden
  • Stay safe
  • Have fun

doing this important work!