Composting at Martin’s Farm: Helping to Close the Loop on Food Waste
By Matt Brodeur, Green Business Services EcoFellow
Photos by Ben Coe, Green Business Support Specialist
Some of our team members at Center for EcoTechnology recently went on the road to take a tour of Martin’s Farm in Greenfield, MA. Martin’s Farm is a compost and mulch farm that takes food scraps and paper waste from a variety of businesses and institutions and turns it into a useful finished product.
Martin’s Farm is run by Adam Martin, who purchased the business and land from his father in 2014. Adam’s drive to sustain his father’s farm stems from his core belief that diverting wasted food from landfills and repurposing it is both the right thing to do and necessary going forward. Wasted food is the biggest component going into municipal landfills, and the remaining active landfills do not have long lifespans. Furthermore, as wasted food decomposes in landfills it generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide. These factors combine to make compost facilities and farms an important puzzle piece for more sustainable waste management.
The role that compost operations like Adam Martin’s will play going forward will expand as awareness about wasted food spreads and communities start to take action. The MA Commercial Organics Waste Ban (which came into effect in 2014) has spurred some businesses and institutions, including many school systems and universities, to analyze their waste stream more critically.
Thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s Sustainable Materials Recovery Program, the Greenfield Public Schools are piloting an initiative to divert their organics for composting. All compostable materials from the schools are sent to Martin’s Farm where they get processed.
Once on the farm, the three- or four-month process of turning the organic “waste” into a new, valuable product begins. Adam and his team shape the materials into 500 foot long windrows. This technique allows for plenty of surface area so that the microbes get the oxygen they need to thrive. For the same reason, the windrows are turned regularly to expose the material in the center of the piles to the air it requires.
The farm also has to ensure that the ratio of materials high in carbon (e.g. paper, yard waste, hay) and materials high in nitrogen (e.g. food waste, manure) in the windrows is just right. Because the compost is managed so intentionally, the organic material is able to keep breaking down through the harshest conditions of winter. From start to end, the organics are filtered for contaminants such as plastic or silverware, a reality that all commercial composting operations face.
This partnership between farm and school system is replicable anywhere because it is a mutually- beneficial relationship. The schools gain an opportunity to teach their students about wasted food and composting and may get to cut down on hauling costs; meanwhile, the farm is taking in the primary ingredients for the product that it will either sell or use as a soil amendment.
Closing the loop on wasted food is an essential goal that should save the waste generators money, help mitigate climate change, and keep compost sites like Martin’s Farm busy.
RecyclingWorks offers a free searchable database that you can use to find a hauler of organic waste or a nearby commercial compost operation. Businesses and institutions in Massachusetts can also call the RecyclingWorks hotline (888-254-5525) or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request assistance getting started with diverting wasted food for composting.