Quantcast

F&M College's Composting Adds to Campus Sustainability

Five miles from Franklin & Marshall’s campus, down a dirt road marked by a dairy sign, lies the Terra-Gro composting facility. In partnership with Oregon Dairy, the facility has been in operation for about a decade and has a second location in Peach Bottom, PA, near the Conowingo Reservoir.

Five miles from Franklin & Marshall’s campus lies the Terra-Gro composting facility. Photo credit: Spencer Johnson

F&M’s food waste and compostable dinnerware is combined with the food waste of other companies and businesses in Lancaster County to create the compost Terra-Gro churns on a daily basis. Food waste is critical in rounding out the compost and providing nitrogen to balance the carbon found in cow or horse manure and sawdust. Too much manure draws the nitrogen out with excess carbon and leads to bad compost.

Before selling compost, Terra-Gro provided animal bedding for farms because selling compost alone isn’t too profitable. Fortunately, Terra-Gro’s connection to trucking and the Oregon Dairy farm makes the venture worth investing in. Many turf companies buy compost at a wholesale price to use over their turf due to its ability to retain water. Many don’t know this, myself included until recently, but compost is efficient at reducing stormwater runoff, the leading cause of nitrogen pollution in U.S. waterways. This is a particularly important problem in Lancaster County due to large-scale industrial agriculture.

Compost is largely unresearched, which means many farmers are hesitant to implement composting into their business practices, said Terra-Gro guide Loren Martin.

“It’s hard to calculate the cost/benefit analysis of selling the compost and buying it back,” Martin said. “Since consultants such as Team Ag and Red Barn Association, with no science background, are likely making these decisions for the farmers, they usually advise against it.”

If more farmers composted and used that compost to refertilize their farms, the problem of stormwater runoff that drains to the Chesapeake Bay would be greatly reduced. In order to see these changes, we need to bring scientists and consultants together and make sure they realize the environmental and economic importance of composting.

It takes approximately three months for a composting operation to be complete. Terra-Gro’s process involves three roofed facilities (to prevent leachates and runoff) and a staggered process strategy. The food waste is immediately mixed with sawdust and manure upon arrival to avoid excess liquid, which is collected by a sloped concrete drain and pumped back into the pile.

Conversely, if the compost becomes too dry, liquid manure from the dairy farm is pumped into the mixture to moisten it. In order to remove bad pathogens like salmonella and E. coli, in addition to increasing decomposition speed, the pile needs to stay between 130°F and 150ºF. Before the compost is complete it is screened by a giant machine with little porcupine-like sifters in order to get undesirable materials, such as glass and plastic, out of the mixture. The removal of individual condiment packets has been instrumental in reducing sources of contamination from F&M’s food waste.

Most interesting on my tour of Terra-Gro wasn’t the compost or the anaerobic digestor that powers the whole dairy farm and heats Terra-Gro’s office—it was the windrow machine, the machine responsible for churning the compost. It was designed by a Terra-Gro employee, Merle Ranck, a man with no professional engineering background, and it has twice the fuel efficiency of their old windrow machine. The patent is currently pending.

F&M’s implementation of composting is one of many things that the school hopes to accomplish with its Sustainability Master Plan.

Other environmental initiatives, such as 350.org's national Fossil Free divestment campaign to remove the institution’s endowment from fossil fuels, are also occurring on campus. F&M’s environmental stewardship should serve as a lesson for the community to support similar environmentally-friendly initiatives.

——–

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

130+ Universities Join Movement to Measure Sustainable Dining on Campus

How to Compost in Your Apartment

9 Ways to Cook for One With Zero Waste

——–

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A protestor holds up her hand covered with fake oil during a demonstration on the U.C. Berkeley campus in May 2010. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The University of California system will dump all of its investments from fossil fuels, as the Associated Press reported. The university system controls over $84 billion between its pension fund and its endowment. However, the announcement about its investments is not aimed to please activists.

Read More Show Less
Forest fire continues to blaze in Indonesesia on Sept. 18. WAHYUDI / AFP / Getty Images

Nearly 200 people have been arrested in Indonesia over their possible connections to the massive wildfires raging in the nation's forest, officials said this week.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

World leaders have a formidable task: setting a course to save our future. The extreme weather made more frequent and severe by climate change is here. This spring, devastating cyclones impacted 3 million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Record heatwaves are hitting Europe and other regions — this July was the hottest month in modern record globally. Much of India is again suffering severe drought.

Read More Show Less
Covering Climate Now / YouTube screenshot

By Mark Hertsgaard

The United Nations Secretary General says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change "emergency."

Read More Show Less
A new rule that ends limits for hog slaughtering speeds could increase animal suffering, advocates warn. kickers / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Trump's U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finalized a new hog slaughtering rule Tuesday that environmental and food safety advocates warn could harm animals, plant workers and public health, Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Prehistoric and historic walrus skulls, tusks and bone fragments often wash ashore on the southern coast of Snæfellsnes peninsula in Iceland. Hilmar J. Malmquist

A unique subpopulation of ancient walrus in Iceland was likely hunted to extinction by Vikings shortly after arrival to the region, according to new research.

Read More Show Less
Drivers make their way on the US 101 freeway on Aug. 30 in Los Angeles, California. Mario Tama / Getty Images

In its latest move to undermine action on the climate crisis, the Trump administration will formally rescind California's waiver to set stricter auto emissions standards under the Clean Air Act.

Read More Show Less
Brazilians living in The Netherlands organized a demonstration in solidarity with rainforest protectors and against the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro on Sept. 1 in The Hague, Netherlands. Romy Arroyo Fernandez / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Tara Smith

Fires in the Brazilian Amazon have jumped 84 percent during President Jair Bolsonaro's first year in office and in July 2019 alone, an area of rainforest the size of Manhattan was lost every day. The Amazon fires may seem beyond human control, but they're not beyond human culpability.

Read More Show Less