University explores compost program

By Emily Bardales

Students for Environmental Concerns is collaborating with a variety of different University departments to make campus more sustainable and to start a compost farm that will turn uneaten food into soil.

Not only will the farm have compost equipment, it will also produce food for the campus and possibly for sale.

“Our vision would be to create a farm that satisfies all three missions of the University: teaching, research, and outreach,” said Bruce Branham, interim department head and professor in ACES. “A fourth mission would be to produce food for campus.”

An over-arching impact of the project would be to minimize the amount of methane in the atmosphere that results from landfills, said Wesley Jarrell, director of the University’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.

Jarrell also works with the Environmental Change Institute in educating the public on the effect of a carbon footprint.

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Producing food on the farm would decrease the carbon produced from transporting the produce.

“The average produce travels 1,500 miles, which is associated with a lot of carbon,” Branham said.

Leslie Cooperband, human and community development extension specialist on sustainable agriculture, did a study on composting campus waste. The study was done in the Allen Hall dining hall where she researched the quantity of waste, the amount of non-compostable waste and the amount of paper waste.

“What we concluded from the research is our compost goals are feasible, and there is high quality compost that has value and can be sold,” Cooperband said.

The location of the farm is already decided to be a 10-acre section on campus. But the location of the compost site has yet to be determined.

“The University takes a long time to approve of things, I would predict a waiting time of another two years, and that would be if we had money, which we do not,” said Thomas Abram, sustainability coordinator for Facilities & Services.

Branham said he hopes to start the farming by next spring, depending on the funding. Designs are being made, and the overall project is estimated to cost about $1 million. A proposal was turned in to Students for Environmental Concerns for assistance in funding on Nov. 17, and they are still deliberating.

But producing food on campus would also keep the dollars on campus.

Branham hopes that the farm can offer scholarship opportunities for students in need of financial assistance by working on the farm.

“We have what it takes to be a true leader in this area of sustainability; we could truly be out there on this as a leader to other universities,” said Dick Warner, director of the Office of Sustainability and professor in NRES.

Branham, an ACES department head, sees students’ interest in one day having their own 10-acre farms and producing produce for their communities.

“It takes probably 1-2 people per acre of produce to successfully farm produce; every year we bring in 7,000 freshmen, over two hours, that’s a lot of labor,” Branham said laughing.