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Guerilla Composting: One bucket of soil at a time

More than 34,000 pounds of food scraps composted in ten months

By Kristy Acuff

What if you could reduce the amount of waste you throw in the landfill by 30 percent and make a valuable soil ingredient in the process simply by using a bucket next to your trash bin?

Thanks to a new valley business, Guerilla Composting, both residents and commercial businesses can easily compost food and yard waste without a lot of hassle. For a small fee, Guerilla Composting will provide a bucket, collect your waste weekly or bi-weekly and turn it into beautiful, rich compost. Then, once or twice a season, they will deliver compost back to your door to use in the garden.

Guerilla Composting founder 29-year old Julie Donohue grew up with a compost pile in her backyard and saw the need in Crested Butte when she moved here in 2014. While compost piles are prohibited in town limits because of wildlife concerns, especially bears, Donohue was able to set up outside town limits and began the business in July 2017.

“I thought people definitely needed the opportunity to put their nutrient-rich food scraps to use, especially in a progressive community that also loves its gardens,” says Donohue.

“Food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away and they should be composted instead,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.”

So far, Donohue has composted more than 34,000 pounds of food scraps and is getting ready to deliver completed compost to customers. Her operation is based outside of Crested Butte South and in Gunnison. She says the primary challenge in the cold climate is “motivation.”

“Everything is outdoors, so it is hard to motivate to get outside and move around literally tons of food. To shovel, rake, mix and turn the compost is a lot of work,” says Donohue. “Once it got well below freezing, I stopped turning the piles and allowed just the centers to stay warm and the outside of the pile to insulate the inside. Over winter, worms and other bacteria and fungi survive in that warm core of the pile and just hang out until spring comes.”

The service has reached 100 residents and more than a dozen commercial businesses, ranging from Crested Butte Mountain Resort to the Old Town Inn, as well as several local restaurants and catering services.

“We really care about sustainability and are happy to pay for this service,” says Dana Zobs, co-owner of Crested Butte’s Personal Chefs and one of Donohue’s customers. “It is totally worth it to support sustainability and the full circle of food and food waste. I love Guerilla Composting.”

“It’s super easy. We have two buckets in our back kitchen and she comes and gets them weekly,” says Old Town Inn employee Stephanie Maltarich. “We were inspired by a film at last year’s film festival that documented food waste. After we watched it, we thought, ‘We have to do this at the hotel.’”

Donohue says the sheer quantity of pre-consumer food scraps she collects from commercial businesses has allowed her to reach out to Gunnison valley livestock producers and provide food scraps for animal feed. In addition, she has started a small hog farm in Gunnison.

“We have actually started a hog farm [called Pangaea] as a direct result of the quantity of food scraps we receive from restaurants,” Donohue says. “I want to follow the food waste hierarchy and use food waste to feed livestock prior to composting it. The hogs will be raised on food scraps plus supplemental feed.”

With hog-breeding on the horizon, Donohue continues to find creative ways to put the valley’s food waste to good use. For more information, visit the website, www.guerillacomposting.com.

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