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Kompost Kids Vie for National Prize


Diverting organic materials from landfills consumes Kompost Kids volunteers. The group hopes to ramp up efforts and is vying for a national prize to help.

Over the last five years, Kompost Kids have convinced neighborhood restaurants and cafés to sort and save their “compostables”; in turn volunteers fetch the stuff. They’ve also partnered to set up a dozen community compost sites around the Milwaukee area.

Outpost Natural Foods in Bay View is a new partner. That’s where I find compost hauler Mike Collins. He’s eager to get a move on,; he has 23 more pick ups ahead of him, but pauses to report today’s volume to Outpost sustainability manager Jessy Servi.

Today’s total comes to 1,500 pounds.

Servi, who is just digging into the compost initiative, is ecstatic with the results –– this is just the second pick-up from their central kitchen. She says diverting food stuff from landfill topped her sustainability list......

“Being a grocery store, our value base is on sustainable agriculture and supporting farms. It just didn’t make sense that we were sending our food waste to the landfill.”

She says the tricky part was putting the pieces together.

”it took several months of exploring different options before Kompost Kids and I came to a place where we had a program that would work because Kompost Kids was just kicking off their “post pilot consumer program.

Their what? Melissa Tashjian steps in to explain. She’s Kompost Kids volunteer director – and look out – she’s about to try to convert the “not yet enlightened” – at lightening speed.

“Pre-consumer” includes vegetable waste. Anything that has not yet hit the plate of the customer, Tashjian adds, while post consumer....

“It’s like pizza crust, things along that lines; it’s meat, dairy – things that we wouldn’t usually be able to take when composting at our different garden sites.”

Tashjian says when properly handled and “heated” all of the “stuff” serves as perfectly good fodder for luscious soil, but the “post consumer” leftovers

“We don’t want it in our community sites because it can draw unnecessary animals and draw pathogens if you can’t maintain the proper level of hit .”

Kompost Kids’ plan tackles that obstacle through collaboration with firms both local and international.

That’s where Mike the trucker comes in; he’s a driver for a Canadian-based company called Sanimax, which is delivering Outpost’s materials to a southeastern Wisconsin partner, called the Farms Compost in Caledonia. The commercial composting facility is family-owned and DNR approved. Tashjian says compost there is cooked to perfection.

“And then we in turn as Kompost Kids get a percentage of finished product returned to us which we can then donate to community gardens.”

Tashjian calls the arrangement a “win win” in her group’s goal to divert materials from landfills. One nagging wrinkle remains.

Right now Outpost on Kinnickinnic is the only business who has jumped aboard the pre and post consumer compost bandwagon, and Jessy Servi admits her business is paying more – at least at the start – than it does for regular trash pickup.....

“But keeping it out of the landfill – the methane gas – is a big factor for sure, and it’s also really building healthy soil, I think that’s a huge benefit to what we’re doing. We deplete the soil so much through our regular agricutulral systems and through construction and building. So this is a way for us to build healthy soil for good food for the future.”

Melissa Tashjian realizes lots of “enlightening” lies ahead. She says a company with a sustainability manager – like Outpost – represents the low-hanging fruit in her business. Tashjian is hopeful that Kompost Kids might collect enough votes in a contest sponsored by Tom’s of Maine to win a 10-thousand dollar grant, which they’d use to bring other restaurants on board in their post-consumer compost efforts:

She says the grant would be frugally parceled off to pay for the little extra restaurants would dole out in pick up fees.

$10,000 prize or not, Kompost Kids is aiming high. It hopes to mobilize restaurants within its earshot to divert 80 percent of their waste from landfills and into creating soil.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.