October 25, 2005 | General


BioCycle October 2005, Vol. 46, No. 10, p. 50
Municipal-community partnerships build sustainability, food security and stronger neighborhoods.
Don Boekelheide

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina, takes a coordinated three-pronged approach to municipal compost policy. First, the city produces high quality compost and mulch from yard trimmings; it also offers excellent education to residents; and third, through its Mecklenburg County Land Use and Environmental Services Department, it harnesses volunteer power through a Master Composter program.
The excellent yard trimmings operation, directed by Steve Elliot, uses a 25-acre main facility, plus satellite sites to transform shipping pallets, landscaping/yard/tree service greenery into 120,000 cubic yards of mulch and 30,000 cubic yards of compost each year which are sold to the public in bulk and in bags. To augment the benefits, the County Waste Reduction staff offers an educational feature with the catchy phrase of “P.L.A.N.T.”, to harness the energy and enthusiasm of volunteers under the leadership of Ann Gill.
P.L.A.N.T. (Piedmont Landscaping And Naturescaping Training) classes are hosted, typically on Saturday mornings, throughout Mecklenburg County, at Park and Recreation Nature Centers, community gardens and other convenient sites. They offer a fun, hands-on experience for participants, teaching a successful backyard compost method, as well as helping residents learn how to cut waste and safeguard soil and water resources through using alternatives to toxic chemicals, that highlight recycling and landscaping with native plants. Master Composter (and NCSU Cooperative Extension Master Gardener) Mary Staubel teaches these popular classes. Participants get a compost bin and a generous pile of references and materials. At $10, it’s the best deal in town.
The Master Composter Program, led by Gill and Staubel, is an annual 12-week skills training course in composting, environmental stewardship and community waste reduction, inspired by the model of Seattle’s program. The 20 selected participants, chosen by application, must “pay off” their training by creating and implementing a compost or waste reduction project, in their neighborhood, workplace or elsewhere in the community. Projects have ranged from compost education in schools to experimenting with best designs for small-scale compost tea makers. Over 100 Master Composters have graduated thus far, creating a network of informed citizens who can share resources, work together and speak up in support of composting. Of course, the best publicity for the benefits of compost are the luscious red tomatoes growing in compost-treated Carolina red clay.
Don Boekelheide is a Community Garden Advisor with Piedmont Landscaping And Naturescaping Training.

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