How it Works

The Compost Club has a simple mission. We fundamentally change the routine of waste handling onsite. We introduce a new school or business practice- put it here, not there. Twenty schools and businesses have joined our program, which all started in 2003 at Westside School, a small K-6 School in Healdsburg, Ca. Collectively, our effort now diverts more than 72,000 lbs. of food scraps from the landfill each year.

Our approach is simple, but it takes some effort. Schools approach us, and we help them assemble their team. Each school has a, well, “hero” that thinks the recycling of organic waste is a good idea and who will dedicate time to see it succeed. Often, we have one but not both of these situations. Once we have that lead person, a classroom (or employees) that will take on some daily recycling duties, and administrative support, we get to work.

To start the program, we calculate how much food waste is generated on campus, then estimate the number of worm bins to keep it running smoothly. We raise funds for the school or business through our fundraising efforts, and we then install the system once funding is secure.

With the ability to fund the program, we then deliver a classroom or school-wide lesson called “Recycling Changes Everything.” This builds awareness and some skills related to the tasks ahead. Once motivated, the lead person onsite works out the duties and routines. We work with the lead person to ensure that he or she has the skills and knowledge to keep a larger scale worm bins system functioning. A community building day is scheduled where the bins are installed onsite. Last year, the bins were prepared (frames and lids) by the Healdsburg High CASA (Constructions and Sustainability Academy) program.

At the end of the school year, we encourage the schools or businesses to harvest and sell their compost. This raises awareness of their sustainable practices related to waste handling. We assist schools to sell their compost when asked, occasionally hosting a booth at a farmer’s market or event where the students bring their compost, sift and bag it onsite, then sell the material. It’s not uncommon for school’s to raise $1000 annually through this effort.

It’s a simple program we’d like to grow. Read through our additional posts and other pages to learn why we do what we do on a deeper level, and keep us in mind for your backyard gardening or business composting needs.

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Small steps

The Compost Club effort has been underway now for ten years. We fundamentally change how waste is handled at a business or institution. It all adds up. It’s a small thing, really, a new simple ritual that changes the landscape over time.

We draw inspiration from examples we have seen in our lives. Our early work was inspired by folks like Fred Hall,  a now retired janitor that served at the Oak Grove Union School District in Graton until the early 2000′s. Fred effected change by paying attention and offering simple changes to waste handling.

We’d like to share an example and style of change over time. When you have a free thirty minutes, here’s an academy award short film that promotes changes you can accomplish in life, over time, in no hurry.

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Kiva Zip tackled Access to Capital: Introducing our worm farm at Bucher Dairy

In Agriculture, it is said, an individual must move beyond five obstacles to declare and sustain themselves as a Farmer by occupation. This is different than the conversation about sustainable farming, which is about our value system to choose farming practices that meet or exceed customer expectations, or to steward the land in such a way that promotes its health and coexist with the living organisms found there. Values aside, some would say, “sustainable” and “business” are simply rhetorical. After all, you cant have a business if you cant repeat and sustain sales.

The farmer by occupation, in this vein, must remove the following barriers to get started in the trade: lack of capital, land, health insurance, business skills, and farming skills. Any one element missing compromises the foundation that will ensure the farmer’s success beyond a single season.

The New American Farmer knows this. Ask any Beginning Farmer (those entering or farming for 5 years or less) for the nitty-gritty about this matrix of challenges.  When you do,  you will hear the heart of the matter about a farmer’s story. And keep in mind that beyond growing and harvesting, there must be a strategy for processing, storage, sales, and distribution of the commodities sold. It all figures into the story.

The Compost Club is a New American Farmer. Some other day, we’ll tell that complete story. Today, however, we’d like to acknowledge a barrier lifted- Access to Capital. For ten years, we have envisioned a production worm farm to supply our schools and businesses with affordable composting systems. We have had ten years of persistence towards this goal, marked by sketches, calculations, starts and stops, grant proposals rejected, falls and scrapes. And as Nelson Mandela said, “Don’t judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

Today, we stand up. And we give thanks to the 144 people from across the globe who contributed funds to our production worm farm. Thanks to the brilliance of the Kiva Zip Loan program, we raised $5,000 in exactly two weeks. In 2014, we began to farm. By late September 2014, we paid back our loan.

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Small Scale on a Large Scale

Our gratitude is extended to writer and Healdsburg resident Ann Carranza. Our non-profit got some nice press coverage in today’s paper. This represents ten years of daily acts happening around Sonoma County. Read about it here.


In 2003, we helped recycle 900 pounds of food scraps at West Side School. In 2012, we helped recycle 44,000 pounds of food scraps at nearly a dozen sites around town. We replicate small scale change, on a large scale.


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Recycling Changes Everything

The Compost Club kicks off our K-6 school program with a presentation that requires audience participation. Each student is presented with leftovers from a mock lunch – the leftover food, the plastic baggies, the lunch sack, etc. Then the fun begins.

Students learn the simple fact that recycling and composting begins when we have the proper receptacle to put them in,  accuracy improves when we know what is recyclable and compostable, and participation increases when we feel motivated to do our part.

This pie chart shows where “trash” goes when the only option is a trash can. Grey represents “trash”, and lavender represents re-use. On average, each person produces about 3 lbs. of “trash” each day. With a population of 477,000 people in Sonoma County, even with recycling and composting statistics set aside, about 716 tons of waste head to the landfill daily.


Look what could happen to the same amount of trash when both recycling and composting receptacles are available. The majority each person’s 3lbs. of daily trash can be recycled, composted, or better yet, rethought. Students notice that reusable lunch bags and containers produce no trash at all. In Sonoma County, about 358 tons of organic/compostable waste goes to the landfill daily.

The daily act of recycling and composting adds up, and The Compost Club has spurred that action. Thanks to students around the county, placing a half-eaten apple a day in the compost instead of the trash, the Compost Club has now diverted 100 tons of food scraps from the landfill. And better yet, we’ve motivated some schools to sell their compost as a school fundraiser.

One last thought to consider- the 358 tons of organic waste that heads to the landfill each day could instead generate 218,000 yards of compost in one year.  That amount of compost is enough to supply each household in the county with 1.5 yards of compost annually. If that compost were sold bulk in the marketplace, it would generate $ 6.5 million dollars to our local economy.  The US EPA Landfill Methane Outreach Program points to that organic waste in the landfill and has declared it the single most influential human caused source of methane production. When we remove organics from the landfill, we reduce greenhouse emission and we generate income. When we remove organics from our trash can at home, we no longer need the same sized trash can, and we save on our waste hauling fees. Recycling does change the outcome, when we participate in the process.

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Starting Something Good

In 2010, I received a call from Hope Marshall and Vince McCann of the Sonoma County Energy and Sustainability Division. They were spearheading an effort to reduce food waste from the landfill.

Over the next several months, we worked together with the Sonoma County Detention Facility on Airport Boulevard to build and install a vermicomposting system. The system was built by staff and inmates, associated with an excellent Jail Industries ROP program that allows inmates to receive their GED under the skilled instruction of Rick Stearnes.

The system has been phenomenally successful. The facility has diverted nearly 20 tons of food scraps and taught valuable skills related to the recycling  and landscaping trade. You can see an example of the bin I design at 2300 County Center Drive, the site for the administrative office for the Energy and Sustainability Division.

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