Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH

Phase One – City of Columbus Kitchen Composting!

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While on sabbatical from farming last season, I joined in discussion with a growing group of folks launching CORC – The Central Ohio Reuse Coalition. I’ll have to write another post about that group and our mission. For now, here are our three main goals (and a logo draft by friend of the farm Melissa Freuh!):

  • Create public demand for circular policies & solutions to replace disposable
    “make-take-waste” packaging and food & drink container systems;
  • Push elected officials to enact policies/ordinances that encourage reusable
    solutions and reduce disposables;
  • Encourage and facilitate circular economy initiatives/businesses based on
    closed-loop, circular solutions that replace disposables with reusables.

Our group leader, and a good friend, Doug Calem is a citizen on a mission who has done a deep dive into reuse systems, worked hard to make connections with sustainable city groups throughout the region, and gotten a seat at the table with folks at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Group (MORPC) and City of Columbus.

I tagged along with him this past week for a meeting with Aryeh Alex, City of Columbus Sustainability Manager and Keep Columbus Beautiful Executive Director, about a plastic education grant we’re working on with his office. It was a great conversation – at one point Aryeh noted how unusual it is to find residents who geek out about waste management – that gave me a lot of hope for Columbus moving into the future.

Doug had to leave a few minutes early so I got to talk one-on-one with Aryeh. I asked about the possibility of city-supported food waste composting. Kitchen scraps and other organic, compostable materials are the ones that make your trash can stink. It’s also the stuff that generates methane, a powerful source of carbon emissions, into the atmosphere. According to SWACO (Solid Waste Management of Central Ohio), 15% of what goes into the landfill in our region is food waste. The more of these we can divert from the waste stream and put to new use the better. Some reading this might compost at home, but that’s not possible for everyone across the city.

I was shocked when Aryeh told me that a pilot program for food waste drop sites around the city was announced in the 2023 Columbus Budget Mayor Ginther introduced a few weeks ago. I found this recording and listened for my pet issue (jump to 15 minutes or listen to it in context of other waste management issues a few minutes earlier). I’ll admit this was the first time I listened to a city budget preview presentation. I’m sure folks have torn apart various points of it and feel some concerns are less represented or addressed differently than they might like, but I was impressed, even a little inspired, to hear more about how the city approaches its fiscal responsibilities and investments with regard to safety, affordability and vital city services.

I liked when the mayor said,”Budgets are more than just ledgers and line items – they are based on our values.” Again, I don’t know as much as I should about city initiatives but I know I’m hearing more often about our Climate Action Plan and programs linked to it. The goal is carbon neutrality by or (hopefully) before 2050.

So, here’s what we have to look forward to in Spring 2023.

Free kitchen compost drop-off sites in city parks and recreation centers! The mayor mentioned two but Aryeh said there would be five online the first year with ten more added in 2024. Sometime down the road there might be as many as 50 and/or some city-subsidized curbside pickup option. Details are still in the works but the food scraps would likely go to one or both of two sites while SWACO builds its new recycling facility that will include a bio-digester. The first, and one I heard most about, is at the London Correctional Institution that offers a job training program for inmates to work in waste management. The city is already working with the program to employee graduates of the program upon their release. How cool is that?!

Another goal Aryeh mentioned that I have heard urban farmers speak about in the past is changing city code that would allow community gardens and urban farmers to receive and compost on-site kitchen scraps from neighbors. Sounds like they are working through the red tape so stay tuned for more on that as well as when to expect the drop sites will be open, ready to receive food waste, and tips on getting your materials there.

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