by Georgeanne Davis
Tuesday, September 7, 2021 9:49 AM
The low roar of the lobster boats leaving the harbor wakes me up before the break of a fine morning, which, I fear, marks the beginning of the last hurray of summer. When the nights cool down, the ground mist hangs low over the beds of lush herbaceous perennials and dew-covered fields that are soon scorched by the rising sun. I usually burn the early morning mist in my brain with a cup or two of coffee, but this morning I’m joining a group of volunteers who will seize the new day by bagging freshly hardened compost at Vinalhaven Transfer Station.
I was happy to join because it was my first look at a project that started two years ago when the city of Vinalhaven received a grant of $ 20,425 from DEP in Maine to initiate a composting program. On an island that has to transport waste to the mainland, a year-round composting program on the island is a breeze: the community threw away over 630 tons of household waste annually at a cost of $ 120 per tonne. A significant portion of that garbage was leftover food. If households and businesses were to compost their leftover food, the annual disposal costs would be lower, with the added benefit of providing much-needed soil improvements for gardens on the thinly covered granite rock of Vinalhaven.
The basic premise of community composting sounds simple, but it took time before a lot of household waste had accumulated. As more families now participate, the volume grows. Part of the grant was paid for official VH compost bins, which are distributed to families to collect leftover food at home and at work. When a family brings rubbish in sacks to the transfer station, they also empty their compost bins into a large collection bin that is set up near the landfill. A container of sawdust is nearby so some can easily be scooped up and tossed over the trash, adding whatever brown materials you need to the mixture. When the bins are full, the composting team mixes all the leftover food into an active dung heap, which is located in a remote corner of the transfer station, and then lets nature take its course – with the help of transfer station master Kenny Martin. Martin supports the community’s composting efforts by using his Bobcat to empty bins, ventilate piles, and move piles. When he picks up the containers, he uses the fork scales that he bought with the DEP grant money to weigh them. The result of all the moving and mixing means that there are always several piles in work, some fresh mix, some hardened mix and yet another real compost ready for packaging.
As of February this year, composting has removed about five and a half tons from the waste stream, producing 250-300 bags of finished supplements that sell for $ 3 a bag. I can attest the high quality of the product as I have now helped with the packaging and it is definitely a bargain. Buying compost on the island also saves the need to bring a car or truck to the mainland, drive to a kindergarten, and then haul the bags back on the ferry.
The compost that was bagged by six volunteers – including this year’s Island Fellow, the two-man crew who have been with the fellow since the first days of the scholarship (one of them my daughter), two gardeners who were helped by the offer of a free bag. Compost was attracted for an hour of work, and I – was the end result of the materials that were assembled in the fall. The job was simple: take a recycled feed bag donated by islanders who have horses, goats, chickens, and bird feeders and slide it across the bottom of a wooden filling chute designed and made by my son-in-law (this definitely is .) a family matter). One volunteer holds the slide upright while another shovels the crumbly black gold into it. As soon as the sack is full, the slide is pulled out and the sack is put aside. Repeat this process 70 times and your job is done – a good hour in good company with the added bonus of a nice bag of compost to take away.
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