Four Course Compost

September 9, 2004

Organic material being fed into a grinder

Second to growing one’s own food in a backyard garden, the shortest distance between earth and table is often a farmers market. But what happens to the food scraps after they leave the table? If you shop and eat at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, or live and dine in San Francisco, remnants from your meal will begin a 150 mile round trip, their nutrients returning to your kitchen through an innovative composting program run by NorCal Waste Systems. Over 300 tons of food scraps are collected daily from 2000 local restaurants, and are transformed in just 90 days to a nutrient-rich soil amendment used by some of the farmers that sell in our market.

Every Saturday in CUESA’s Shop with the Chef program, all the biodegradable plates, utensils, and food scraps are collected into green composting bins. Restaurants such as Hayes St. Grill and Hog Island Oyster Company deposit their egg and oyster shells, adding calcium to an already rich biomass that will eventually become a “Four Course Compost.” Each night the green bins are emptied and the feed stock, or raw material, is carried east on Highway 80 to a modern compost facility in Vacaville . After the materials are ground to reduce their size, they are fed into 200 foot long bags called pods. Perforated tubes running through the pods allow for aeration, and the organic waste is essentially “cooked” for 60 days. It is then cured in an open air windrow for an additional 30 days, until it is ready to be packaged and sold.

Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farms and Chris Simas of Capay Fruits and Vegetables use this Four Course compost to enrich their soils, adding available organic nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potash – that promote the growth, development, and health of crops and also nourish microbes in the soil. The healthy and delicious products of these farms are then brought to market, eventually finding their way to homes and restaurants around the Bay Area. “It makes absolute sense that as I am trucking down the freeway to San Francisco with all these nutrients from my farm that they are coming the other way with food waste” says Walker .

CUESA works directly with the San Francisco Department of the Environment and Golden Gate Disposal and Recycling Company to implement our composting plan and are looking for ways to include farmers’ waste in the program. We consider closing the recycling loop an important step towards sustainability and are thankful to NorCal Waste and the farmers, restaurants, and shoppers that make it possible!

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