Consumer's Guide to Compost
AS CONSUMERS AND BUSINESSES become more conscious of the need to cut down on waste, "Put it in the compost" has become a household mantra. Compost is relatively easy to make, but not everyone can because of a lack of suitable space, experience or guidance. Luckily, some local companies and organizations produce high-quality, organic compost and offer it for sale, often at quite reasonable prices, by the bag or by the truckload.
Not all compost is created equal—there are different components, different mixtures, different uses and, of course, different prices. Basic, mass-produced compost suitable for small flowerbeds or landscaping is available at any home or garden center, but it’s often just as easy to visit a local agency or organization that collects and processes waste into compost that’s as close to "homemade" as you can get without actually making it yourself—and you may even get to talk to the people who made it.
In Dutchess County, McEnroe Organic Farm has long been known for offering excellent, locally sourced compost and organic soil, along with many other farm products. Raw manure from local horse and cattle farms, preconsumer food waste from area grocery stores and leaves from nearby municipalities all go into its Premium Organic Compost. At the farm, the ingredients are mixed and built into large "windrows"—long mounds of covered raw material laid out in the fields to decompose. But they don’t just sit there—the windrows are monitored because organic decomposition produces heat, and the interior of the pile must get hot enough to kill plant pathogens and weed seeds. The entire process takes about eight months.
McEnroe Organic Farm mixes some of the compost into its own branded potting soil, topsoil and blended garden soils; the rest is offered as Premium Organic Compost, which is sold in retail outlets throughout the Hudson Valley and beyond. McEnroe products also are available at the farm stand in Millerton. Premium Organic Compost is sold in 40-pound bags (about $9.50) or in bulk ($48 per cubic yard).
The Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency (UCRRA) added a commercial food-waste processing facility for local products in 2012. Interest and demand from waste handlers soon led to expansion. Similar to a much larger facility near Syracuse, the UCRRA currently processes nearly 2,000 tons of commercial food waste per year—about half of it coming from Ulster County. The rest is trucked in from Beacon, Westchester County, Connecticut, and even from as far as Saratoga County.
The agency’s product, Grow Ulster Green Compost, is certified by the U.S. Composting Council’s Seal of Testing Assurance program. Sold bulk only ($30 per ton with a $20 minimum), the compost is produced using an aerated static pile method. "Food waste and wood chips are mixed, then placed on top of perforated pipes that air is blown through," explains UCRRA Executive Director Tim Rose. "͞The difference between that and a static pile that isn’t aerated [is] that you have to turn [a nonaerated pile] over." Aerated composting reduces water consumption and has lower greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, pathogens and weed seeds are eliminated more quickly and the compost is less likely to have a strong odor. Farmers, landscapers and homeowners have given UCRRRA’s product very positive reviews.
In the Town of New Paltz, also in Ulster County, a unique and rapidly expanding service capitalizes on the growing need to repurpose food waste along with an increasing demand for local organic products. Community Compost Company collects food waste from private homes, businesses and schools for a fee, creates compost from it, then markets the product through Hudson Soil Company, which sells the compost under its own label and also runs gardening, farming and composting workshops. A similar program has been established in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Community Compost Company Director of Operations Molly Lindsay is rightfully proud of the product. "We take a lot of care in making sure we have the right mixture," Lindsay says. "It’s really about the carbon to nitrogen balance—wood chips and leaves balance out the manure and food scraps. We get our material tested at a lab that works with the U.S. Composting Council; we’re also a member of the Composting Council."
Hudson Soil compost is sold in 1-cubic-foot bags ($9 to $12) at selected retail outlets in Ulster County, including Adams Fairacre Farms (Kingston); Wallkill View Farm Market and True Value Hardware (New Paltz); Saunderskill Farms (Accord); Victoria Gardens (Rosendale); High Falls Food Co-op (High Falls); and Davenport Farms (Stone Ridge). It’s also available in Rockland County at Hungry Hollow Food Co-op (Chestnut Ridge). Smaller, 8-quart bags (about $5) are scheduled to debut this spring. Bulk quantities also are available by order ($65 per cubic yard).
The Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, at the former Rockefeller Estate in Westchester County, is notable both for its organic farming program and for its top-tier restaurant. Stone Barns’ Premium Compost utilizes raw materials gathered on the 80-acre site and is created using both aerated and nonaerated static piles. No chemicals or synthetics are used in the process. The compost is available in 32-quart bags (about 50 pounds) for $12.50 at the Center’s farm store in Pocantico Hills.
The Center also is testing "vermicomposting," a process that utilizes earthworms and red worms to break down organic waste. The process is different from traditional composting (high temperatures must be avoided, for example, or the worms will die), as are the products—lots and lots of worms (which can be marketed to anglers, farmers, landscapers and gardeners), as well as their excrement, called castings, a very rich compost.
Another source for compost in Westchester is Westwood Organic Recycling, in Bedford Hills, which creates compost on-site for bulk sale at $39 per cubic yard.
Elsewhere in the region, Organic Recycling, Inc., has its compost tested through the U.S. Composting Council’s programs to ensure that it meets horticultural and safety standards. The compost is sold in bulk only ($30 per cubic yard) at the company’s facilities in Goshen (Orange County) and Orangeburg (Rockland County).