Fertile Grounds

Born out of a personal need, Adam Holtey and his wife, Stephanie, decided to start their own compost pickup service when they found themselves in a home without adequate space for a compost pile.

"We figured that we were not the only family in the valley who wished to put their food scraps to good use, but could not for one reason or another," said Holtey.

That's when Holtey and his wife had the idea to offer a food scrap collection service in the Rogue Valley. The next problem they had to solve was where to put the collected compost.

"A friend of ours had worked with the Farm to School program through Eagle Mill Farm, and asked the manager at Eagle Mill if they were in need of additional food scraps for their composting operations," said Holtey. "The farm manager, Jonathon, was very positive about the idea, and had actually considered offering a food scrap collection service himself, but could never find the time to do so with his other duties at the farm."

That's when Holtey knew he was onto something and Community Compost came to be. Jonathon Ash, the farm manager at Eagle Mill Farm explained to Holtey that he and other farmers always were looking for ways to get local food scraps, either from coffee shops, grocery stores, restaurants or individuals. The food scraps are needed for the nutrient-rich compost that Ash puts back into the soil for his crops.

"My wife and I didn't realize that local farms were in such a hunt for local food scraps," said Holtey, "we came to understand that the benefit of our collection service would not only be reducing waste in the local landfill, but also providing a valuable resource to local farmers."

In addition to the crops grown at Eagle Mill Farm, owner Ron Roth leases land to several other farmers at his property in Ashland who also benefit from Holtey's compost.

Now Holtey had all the pieces together except a vehicle to transport the food scraps.

"We didn't have any extra money to lease a truck, so we decided to ask my mother if we could use the minivan that had been parked in her garage for the last two years," said Holtey, "My mom agreed, and we've been using the van ever since."

Starting in November of 2011, Holtey began driving around in his white minivan collecting food scraps in 12 18-gallon bins. Each bin can hold up to 65 pounds of food scraps, a manageable weight for one person to empty the bins from the van into the compost pile without breaking their back. By Holtey's calculations he's bringing about 600 to 700 pounds of smelly, decaying food scraps back to the farm each week.

"We began calculating the weight of each load, not just to keep a tally," said Holtey, "but to make sure that we stay in compliance with state environmental regulations, which sets limits on the amount of vegetable scraps you can process on one site."

Holtey says they are way under that limit which is 100 tons a year, but he still tracks it as a fun way to chart his progress. "We share this information with our clients in a monthly newsletter so that each individual can see that the small amount of scraps they contribute end up making a significant pile," said Hotley. "Every little bit counts."

As a stay-at-home dad, Holtey says this project has been a good opportunity for him to get out of the house every Wednesday while providing a valuable service to residents and farmers. Holtey spends about 6 to 7 hours a week collecting food scraps from about 85 clients. When going door-to-door to advertise his business, Holtey said he discovered that probably more than half the people in Talent and Ashland already reuse their food scraps by either composting, or feeding them to their animals (usually chickens or sheep).

"Others are composting with worm bins in their garage," said Holtey. That inspired him to do the same. He now has two large worm bins at Eagle Mill Farm, near his compost piles.

To sign up for Community Compost, Holtey asks that clients provide their own container. For a monthly charge of $10 Holtey will pick-up food scraps once a week.

Now that Holtey is driving around the valley each week and dropping his scraps off at Eagle Mill Farm where they grow many berries and vegetables, he's decided to offer a mini CSA (community supported agriculture) program called Rogue Produce. Each week he has started distributing fresh produce to households, businesses and restaurants locally. Since launching Rogue Produce a week ago, Holtey has already signed up 15 clients for deliveries.

"We will post on our Facebook page where you can find smoothies made with our local organic strawberries, or soups made with our stinging nettles, and so on," said Holtey, "The compost pile at Eagle Mill is some kind of amazing vortex that has facilitated relationships that are slowly but surely enhancing the sustainability and abundance of our community."

To learn more about Community Compost see www.roguevalleycompost.com or call 541-301-3426.

Mandy Valencia is a reporter for the Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 541-776-4486 or avalencia@mailtribune.com.

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