Bacteria have been breaking down organic materials for billions of years, but the credit for discovering compost may go to the settlers of the Fertile Crescent over 10,000 years ago. They noticed that plants grew better when they were next to manure and soon started spreading manure on their crops. Native Americans were hip to the benefits of compost and taught the first New Englanders their recipe – 10 parts muck to one fish, turn periodically until the fish disintegrates. With the industrial revolution, chemical fertilizers took the place of traditional compost operations and folks forgot that composting was the way to go.
Fast forward to 1994 on a dairy farm in beautiful Hardwick, Vermont. Farmer Tod Delaricheliere began experimenting with manure composting on his dairy farm, finding it a superior to buying chemical fertilizers. As Tod mastered his compost recipe, other farmers heard about what he was doing. The benefits of turning their manure and farm waste into nutrient-rich compost that grew better plants, helped control pests and built the soil sounded like a sure winner to those Yankee farmers!
Around this time, Hardwick was becoming the center of an agricultural revolution with ideas about how communities could support each other by re-localizing resources. In 1999, Highfields Center for Composting was created to help spread the word about composting to farmers around Vermont. A year later, Tom Gilbert, local farmer and soil enthusiast, took the helm as Executive Director. Traveling around Vermont educating farmers, Tom started thinking, ‘Why should composting be limited to farms when everyone is part of the food cycle?’. He began to come up with new ways that composting could help everyone. Perhaps the Hardwick food revolution could be fueled by transforming food scraps into beautiful compost!
Hardwick was just the beginning. In 2004, we partnered with Central Vermont Solid Waste District to create the Montpelier Commercial Composting Program to address the challenges of community composting. This program was the testing ground for our community composting program and Close the Loop! was born. We turned our attention to creating community composting programs that capture food waste from vegetable growers, restaurants, ski areas, and schools to “close the loop” on local food systems.
As Close the Loop! grew, we realized that there weren’t enough compost sites in Vermont to recycle all of that organic material. We helped to design and establish composting operations around Vermont at the Hudak Farm in St. Albans, Grow Compost in Moretown, as well as our own Highfields Research and Education Compost Site in Wolcott. Our compost site now includes windrow composting, our “Worm Parlor” vermicomposting operation, heat recovery research and a portable compost screener.
As the compost revolution expanded we worked with the Vermont legislature to get the rest of Vermont on board. In May 2012, the Vermont legislature passed landmark legislation, The Universal Recycling Act, setting benchmarks for Vermont to become the first state to recycle ALL organics by 2020.
With that goal in mind, we’re focused helping everyone become part of the revolution. Become a Rot Star by joining a Close the Loop! route in your area, starting a Close the Loop! program in your community or joining us in the compost revolution by donating today!