Starting on October 8th, 24 adult students will begin their training to become UConn Master Composters at the New Haven Cooperative Extension Center in North Haven. So just what is a Master Composter you ask and why do we need them anyway?
From 2010 data (I could not get newer federal data because of the shutdown), it was estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that about 33 million tons of food waste was generated in the U.S which averages out to about 400 pounds/year/person. Meanwhile in Connecticut, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) figures that the average CT resident generates approximately 5 lbs of trash a day (1500 lbs/yr) with at least a quarter of it being compostable.
So by promoting composting, Master Composters are encouraging folks to reduce the amount of waste that goes into incinerators and landfills while at the same time promoting the use of these waste materials to create a usable, soil enrichment product, namely compost.
The program, as it now stands, consists of 4 evenings of lectures, Worm Day, and two field trips. We are fortunate to have some truly outstanding lecturers from academia and private industry as well as ardent, enthusiastic volunteers. This year our evening lecturers include Dr. George Elliott from the UConn Plant Science & Landscape Architecture Dept., Dr. Robert Rafka formerly from Pfizer, a URI Master Composter and now a school teacher, Dr. Geoffrey Kuter from Agresource in Amesbury, MA, Master Composters Gregory Moonie, Tracy Burrell and Stephanie Turner.
We held our first ‘Worm Day’ last year bringing together both the beneficial and destructive power of earthworms. Dr. Josef Gorres from the University of Vermont will again give a fascinating presentation on ‘Earthworms from Heaven and Hell’. Carol Quish from the UConn Home & Garden Education Center will walk us through how to create, maintain and harvest a worm bin and then anyone who preregistered and brings their own materials (we give them a list) can make their very own worm bin Both Master Composters and the program will supply the worms.
A favorite part of this program is the one or two field trips that we go on. At the end of this month, the Master Composters will journey to New Canaan to visit Freund’s Farm, a working dairy with an anaerobic digester that supplies energy for part of the farm, a garden center, bakery and catering business, and producer of cow pots. Matt Freund gives us a great tour and much insight on entrepreneural dairy farming and his wife, Theresa provides us with a home grown, absolutely scrumptious lunch. Our second stop of the day is just down the road to Laurelbrook Farm owned by the Jacquiers. Bobby Jacquier or one of his sons gives us a tour of their state of the art manure composting facility. Their windrow turner in action is quite the sighte and on a cold day the turned piles steam from microbial activity. Exquisite fungal mycelium can often be seen when examining the windrows of compost.
A late fall, this year December, field trip brings the Master Composters to the Manchester Leaf Recycling Facility and under the tutelage of Ken Longo. Ken spends some time discussing how the leaf facility operates and then we get a tour of his composting operation and equipment.
Running this program (with the help of Greg Moonie) is one of my favorite activities. Everyone involved in the UConn Master Composter program is a dedicated professional. We all enjoy sharing our knowledge and want to inspire the students to learn as much about composting as they can so they can go out and spread the word. I am most grateful to these exceptional individuals (both the instructors and the students) for their ardor, enthusiasm and ability to inspire others to make composting a routine (but definitely not boring) part of their lives.