Local startup engages the community with composting services

Compost! I bet you’ve heard the word. And if you’re a hip n’ happenin’ green mean environmental machine, it’s probably one of your favorites. But what is this magnificent pile of brown stuff that gardeners hail as “black gold”? Essentially, compost is a mix of organic food waste, dry leaves, paper and cardboard, harmoniously decomposing into the best soil food your garden could ask for.

The most indispensable compost ingredient, food waste, is also the most abundant — the United States produces 34 million tons in one year alone, and Gainesville is no exception. So, it was only a matter of time until environmentalism and entrepreneurship met, fell in love and married into a little local business named Gainesville Compost.

Chris Cano, the Compost Guy

Gainesville Compost began this September when 25-year-old UF graduate, Chris Cano, turned his passions, sustainability and gardening, into his own business. The goal was simple: to turn waste into food using local resources. Having reaped the benefits of composting in his own garden, he decided to expand the operation into the community. With the help of friends employed by local restaurants, he developed a pilot program that included various local joints, such as Karma Cream, Reggae Shack, The Midnight and The Jones.

By participating in Gainesville Compost, restaurants are able to cut down on the amount of waste their businesses produce. Food scraps are collected in old ice cream containers donated by Karma Cream and carried back to Cano’s home and composting site using a bike trailer as carbon-neutral transportation.

Science!

So, is it as easy as throwing a bunch of leftovers and dried leaves into a bucket and letting the magic happen? Hardly. Composting is a process. It takes a minimum of six weeks for the raw composting goodness to turn into useful organic fertilizer. But, the longer it stays in the process, the better the results.

Here’s how it works. In large containers, food scraps, which supply the nitrogen and water, are mixed with dried leaves, paper and cardboard, which supply the carbon. The mix is then aerated by being turned periodically.

This procedure creates the perfect environment for microbes to start breaking things down. The energy created by the working bacteria generates heat that reaches temperatures as high as 145 degrees Fahrenheit, giving off steam as a visible side-effect of the process. The heat contributes to decomposition, decreasing the volume of the original compost material.

Because the food is naturally deteriorating rather than rotting, compost gives off a pleasant, earthy scent, not the stinky smell of your kitchen garbage can. The resulting compost is sifted and should resemble crumbly, dark brown potting soil when ready for the garden. As opposed to the inorganic fertilizer sold at generic home improvement stores, a good pile of compost has the quality of being a soil-builder — a time-consuming but valuable long-term benefit.

From a Healthy Garden to a Healthier Economy

In addition to creating and selling compost to restaurants, Gainesville Compost also has plans to extend its services to the homes of environmentally-conscious Gainesville residents interested in growing their own food. This new project would be based on the farm Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) model, where paying members receive fresh seasonal produce each week. In this case, Compost CSA members will receive nutrient-rich, local compost products, educational resources for gardening with compost and weekly face time with local compost experts. The program will launch early next year, likely operating from the weekly Farmer’s Market at the Bo Diddley Plaza.

Cano’s complete vision for Gainesville Compost goes beyond the vertical business model, which tends to exploits resources to turn a profit and be unfavorable to laborers and the environment. The objective is to create quality compost out of available waste resources, while engaging the Gainesville community in the process. The beauty of this “pedal-powered, community compost network” is its potential long-term effects in the sustainable urban agriculture movement, as well as in our local economy.

Creating your own job, especially one that speaks to your interests as well as to the greater good, sounds impossible in today’s economic climate. But it’s not. Cano threw out the Classified ads and started a business that corresponds to his own interests. It’s not just about wonderful soil food; it’s about creating an alternative way of doing business that is both environmentally and financially sustainable. Now, that’s an idea worth recycling.

If you’re interested in becoming a Gainesville Compost CSA member, contact Chris Cano at GainesvilleCompost@gmail.com.

Photos and illustration by Diana Moreno.