Composting in community gardens

Some simple best management practices can reduce problems and provide great compost when managing compost in urban farm and community garden settings.

Food scraps in the compost bin before turning. Photo credit: Beth Clawson l MSU Extension
Food scraps in the compost bin before turning. Photo credit: Beth Clawson l MSU Extension

Small community garden compost sites pose a unique problem in urban areas. They are larger than backyard composting sites but smaller than commercial or farm sites. These sites typically retain their organic wastes for reuse in their community gardens or small urban farm settings. Community gardens and small urban farms (such as community supported agriculture (CSA) farms) typically pursue an organic approach. This model of small farming depends heavily on composting but can create larger problems in high density populated areas. Some of these sites accept food waste from local businesses adding an additional dimension to the issues of urban composting.

Urban areas in Michigan boast thousands of community gardens and small urban farms. Common small-scale composting problems can cause problems in the neighborhood if they are not well managed. The most common complaint about composting is the smell. Other complaints may include attracting pests or that they are unsightly. The worst cases can also include smelly pools of stagnant water that are the result of poor drainage and runoff from the compost (Ugh!). The good news is that all of these problems can be remedied.

Some steps a community garden or urban farm can take to reduce composting problems include:

  • Understanding the composting process and maintaining a good mix formula for moisture and carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio
  • Turning to mix the materials to prevent odors
  • Planning and implementing site and environmental control measures, including drainage and other infrastructures
  • Implementing good management practices
  • Cultivating your neighbors through education and by sharing the benefits of compost with the neighborhood, and some actual compost too.
  • Using your compost to enrich your soil with organic material and loads of microorganisms

The bottom line is that you should be attentive to your piles through best management practices and ready to apply corrective measures immediately before the neighbors can complain.

For more information about composting contact Beth Clawson, Michigan State University Extension educator. To learn more about local foods, community food systems and food hubs contact MSU Extension Community Food System educators who are working across Michigan to provide community food systems educational programming and assistance.

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