Berea, KY – The Berea College Farm’s composting operation was recognized in the recently published Compendium of Organics Recovery Programs at Colleges and Universities, along with other colleges and universities in the Southeast leading the way in implementing waste reduction and recycling programs.
Established as a small pilot project by students working on the Berea College Farm in 1998, the composting operation has continued, more or less uninterrupted, diverting hundreds of tons of food residuals from the campus dining hall to the college farm’s organically managed cropland. The compost has also replaced peat as the primary potting medium in the farm’s horticultural enterprise where students produce many thousands of transplants each spring for sale and production. Many of those plants are grown out to yield fresh produce for the dining hall and the college farm store. Others are sold to the community for home gardens via weekly plant sales.
The composting operation also indirectly helped facilitate getting more food from the college’s farm into its dining hall by revealing just how much food was being wasted. It’s estimated that 30-40% of food is lost to waste around the world. But weighing the pre- and post-consumer waste picked up daily and recording the data drove that disconcerting statistic home in financial terms.
In response, the dining hall went trayless to encourage students to take only what they could eat. The savings that accrued by generating less waste allowed the dining hall to purchase more produce and meat from the college farm. Now the college farm’s pork, beef and fresh organic produce are regular offerings in the dining hall.
Opportunities remain for further reducing the amounts of organic waste, as well as the overall environmental footprint of the campus, and efforts continue on several fronts. The farm’s composting operation, in collaboration with the campus recycling program and Office of Sustainability, began a pilot project to compost pizza boxes. If successful, that will be a substantial amount of waste diverted from the landfill.
Recently published research also indicates that the farm’s adoption of organic and low-input practices has resulted in a decline in the use of non-renewable energy inputs and emissions of greenhouse gas emissions. Relying on compost and cover crops rather than synthetic N fertilizers for improving soil fertility has been a key part of this effort. The farm continues to refine its operations by improving efficiency and striving to offer more products to the campus and community produced using the most environmentally sound and socially acceptable farming methods.