• Editor’s Note Winter 2012

    Editor’s Note Winter 2012

    We bushwhacked our way through a tangled patch of riverbank plants. The thick stems were still bent from the rushing flood waters, parallel with the ground as if bowing respectfully to the river. That river, the Dog River, was babbling as sweetly as any other Vermont tributary that early September day, but those of us on the volunteer clean-up crew at Dog River Farm in Berlin had a lot more respect for it—and for the power of water—than we’d had just a week before.

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  • A Poet and His Apples

    A Poet and His Apples

    At the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in South Shaftsbury—his Vermont residence from 1920 to 1928—an ancient and magisterially gnarled Snow apple tree presides over the grounds. Placed, probably by the poet’s own hands, in a commanding spot directly behind the house, it was the only one of its kind among the hundreds of apple trees planted on the 80-acre farm during the 1920s. The rest of the orchard, which Frost envisioned as “a new Garden of Eden with a thousand apple trees of some unforbidden variety,” was set behind the barn and populated with McIntosh, Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, and Red Astrachan trees.

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  • From the Ground Up

    From the Ground Up

    There’s no doubt the colorful Earthgirl Composting signs on my black Volvo catch people’s attention and pique their interest. Some smile, wave, or give me the peace sign or a thumbs up. Others laugh when they read my “curbside compost pickup” sign. Those are the people who don’t understand what I do. I can only imagine what they think!

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  • A Canning Party

    A Canning Party

    The canning party began innocently enough. One young mother, living far from her own mother, wanted to learn how to preserve her garden’s bounty. Casually, at church, she asked if she could come help me can. We set up a time, and Sarah and I spent a happy couple of hours pressure-canning green beans.

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  • Set the Table with Kombucha

    Set the Table with Kombucha

    As cold and flu season approaches, health-conscious Vermonters are reaching back through the ages to brew kombucha, a fermented beverage with a unique taste and widely touted benefits to the immune system. Although kombucha’s benefits are of use all year long, the start of a Vermont winter seems a good time to investigate this intriguing drink.

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  • Three Farms, One Town, One Storm

    Three Farms, One Town, One Storm

    The Perley Farm stretches between Route 107 and the White River in South Royalton, on a piece of land exactly level with the river. A highway bridge for I-89 runs right above the pasture. It’s a 40-year-old conventional dairy with a mixed herd of approximately two dozen cows, owned by Harlan “Duke” Perley and run by Larry and Penny Severance. A week before Tropical Storm Irene, Duke was in New Jersey, where he lives part time with his family, undergoing surgery to receive a pacemaker. When parts of the East Coast began to evacuate, he loaded up his two nieces, their two grandsons, and a daughter-in-law and headed up to the farm, where they thought they’d be safer.

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  • Three Farms, One Town, One Storm—Perley Interview

    Three Farms, One Town, One Storm—Perley Interview

    Duke Perley: We’ve farmed here for 40 years, and down the river, 135 years.

    Penny Severance: I was a neighbor, so I always came down as a little kid and helped if the cows got out. [Duke] used to come and get us to help put the cows back in. Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper I’ve been helping the Perleys do something with the farm. He used to give me a quarter, then it got to 50 cents. I still have all my 50-cent pieces. My husband and I have both lost our dad, so Perl’s been our godfather whether he wants us or not, he’s stuck with us. He’s who we go to for fatherly advice, anything that we need.

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  • Three Farms, One Town, One Storm—Bigelow Interview

    Three Farms, One Town, One Storm—Bigelow Interview

    DK: What was it like when the flood came through?

    Jim Bigelow: My grandparents bought the farm in 1921, right before the flood of 1927. Dennis was telling stories about how my dad said they weren’t able to do anything with that field down there for five years after the flood of ’27.

    That used to be a schoolhouse over there. (He points past his lower field to a brick building across the river, next to the Perley Farm.) My grandmother was a schoolteacher. The ’27 flood came up to the bottom of the windows, and this time it got to the top of the windows. Of course things have changed since then. The interstate was put in over the river and I think the bridge changes the flood pattern, and that’s why it totally wiped out Perley’s.

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  • Three Farms, One Town, One Storm—Hurricane Flats Interview

    Three Farms, One Town, One Storm—Hurricane Flats Interview

    DK: When you heard on the news that the storm was coming, what did you think?

    Geo Honigford: I know from history that storms and floods happen. It never occurred to me that we’d get that much rain. The standard joke when I was on jobsites the week after the hurricane—I spent the whole time working on other people’s houses—was ‘oh we don’t have to do that, the river will never get THIS high again.’ It never occurred to me that the river would get up there. We were buttoned down for wind. We had greenhouses full of crops and we were really concerned about wind. And it turned out that we had no wind whatsoever. Just copious amounts of rain. The sides of my greenhouses are slashed – we did that. We waded out into the river, and the pressure was building up on the greenhouse sides and was going to collapse it. So we had to let the water go through the greenhouse, basically reverse the process; instead of battening them up, we had to open them up. We didn’t have time to open them up properly so we just took knives to them. It’s a lot cheaper to lose the plastic than to lose the frame.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Parse the Parsnips

    Farmers' Kitchen—Parse the Parsnips

    Life on a vegetable farm slows down in the late fall and early winter. Most of the daily chores that keep us hopping the rest of the year—seeding, planting, weeding, and harvesting—are pretty much completed by this time, with some notable exceptions: We’re still harvesting the hardiest of crops, including parsnips, kale, spinach, and Brussels sprouts, even with the snow flying. But most of the land lays fallow, sporting only the nutrient-rich cover crops of winter rye and oats.

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  • The Other Great Flood

    The Other Great Flood

    When the 1927 flood hit, devastating damage occurred on Vermont farms, primarily losses of livestock and barns. And yet the same spirit of cooperation evident after Irene was very present back then, as illustrated by the flyer at right, which could have been written today.

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  • The Threats from Upstream

    The Threats from Upstream

    If only it had been simpler. If only the rain had just washed the crops away.

    But the floodwaters of Tropical Storm Irene didn’t wash much Vermont produce away. Instead, crops on flooded farms became covered in water and silt that potentially harbored chemicals or microbes that could endanger human health. Accordingly, on September 2, the Vermont Department of Agriculture released a warning about the consumption of fruits and vegetables that had been inundated by floodwaters. Borrowing the succinct wording of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Agency stated that “there is no practical method of reconditioning the edible portion of a crop that will provide a reasonable assurance of human food safety.” In other words, flooded crops had to be thrown away.

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From the Ground Up

Earthgirl Composting
Buckets for composting

Written By

Megan Kolbay

Written on

December 01 , 2011

There’s no doubt the colorful Earthgirl Composting signs on my black Volvo catch people’s attention and pique their interest. Some smile, wave, or give me the peace sign or a thumbs up. Others laugh when they read my “curbside compost pickup” sign. Those are the people who don’t understand what I do. I can only imagine what they think!

The most common question I hear from people who don’t yet know about Earthgirl Composting is, “What do you do with all of that compost?” I love that question! Not only is it a great conversation starter, it helps me market my business and raise their awareness about the importance of composting. I start by telling them that I don’t in fact create the compost; I’m the waste hauler. That means I charge my customers to pick up their food scraps and haul them to a composting facility for processing.

Their payment covers my time and costs, the bulk of which goes toward gas, vehicle maintenance, and marketing. Being a sole proprietor I provide much more than the muscle to haul buckets of food scraps in and out of my vehicle—anywhere from 300 to 400 pounds per week. I’m also the accounting department, the marketing department, and the cleanup crew. Some people don’t realize that this is how I financially support myself and my son.

Another question I often hear is, “Why do people pay you to take away their food waste?” The simple answer is that households and businesses that sign up for our services all want their waste diverted from the landfill. They pay me to haul it away because they do not have the time, energy, or motivation to compost it themselves and/or their living/work space is not conducive to setting up a compost bin.

On any given day before my pickups, you’ll find me suited up in my green rubber overalls outside—or at the kitchen sink if it’s too cold—washing out the soiled compost buckets with Liquid Sunshine, my favorite cleaning product, made by Vermont Soap Organics. After they’re dry, into my car they go in the order they will be needed on that day’s route. At a typical household, I’ll pick up a full compost bucket waiting outside and replace it with an empty, clean one. Some customers go one or two weeks between pickups, while others find monthly to be enough. Some of the businesses I serve compost not only the food scraps from their employees’ lunches, but also brown paper towels from the bathrooms. No business is too big or too small to sign up for our services.

Earthgirl Composting was born out of my blossoming concern for the environment and my need for a flexible work schedule that would allow me to spend time with my son, who was four when I launched the business on Earth Day 2006. The idea came from a friend in Burlington, where I was living at the time, who asked that I take her compost to the Intervale along with my own scraps. She wanted our compost to carpool? And she wanted to pay me for it? I thought that was a great idea.

As I launched my business, I wanted every decision I made to be thoughtful and to reflect my personality. I asked an artist friend to design a logo, which is still at the core of my posters and labels. To keep costs down and to preserve resources, I steadily gathered used peanut butter buckets (and tofu buckets for customers allergic to peanuts) from natural food stores and co-ops to use as containers. I received much-needed, free business counseling from Simeon Geigel at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO) in Burlington. I purchased a used computer, set up my first e-mail address to help with outreach, and my partner designed my first website.

Since then, I’ve broadened the list of facilities I deliver waste to, which includeIntervale Compost Products (now Green Mountain Compost), Vermont Compost Company in Montpelier, and most recently, Grow Compost in Moretown and Dog River Farm in Berlin. I’ve also adapted the business to changes in my own life, the biggest of which was moving to Montpelier from Burlington in 2007, which enabled me to expand our service area from just Burlington to include Williston and Montpelier.

I’m excited to be part of this growing movement toward recycling organic wastes. I get e-mails from people all over the U.S. and Canada and have even gotten a few from the United Kingdom, asking me for advice on how to start their own compost pickup business. It’s a great feeling to know that I’m not only making a difference here in Vermont but in other places as well.

I believe composting is very important for a variety of reasons. Composting saves landfill space, reduces methane emissions (which are released when food rots in cloistered landfills instead of aerated compost windrows), builds soil, and strengthens our local food systems and agricultural businesses, to name a few. Feeling like I’m contributing to the greater good in my work is important to me, and it’s a need that is (partially) satisfied through my work with compost.

The recent wave of ”compostable” products presented—and continues to present—a challenge for me. As much as I love composting, I’d rather encourage people to re-use dishes and utensils than continue using (or increasing their use of) disposables just because the product is labeled ”compostable.” There are also practical considerations. ”Compostable” plastics are often corn based, raising the possibility that genetically modified corn was used to manufacture them, and that good agricultural land was wasted on non-food products. The use of gasoline-powered farm equipment for growing “compostable” plastics and the energy consumed during their manufacture is another concern I have. Some “compostable” plastics may contain plasticizers—chemical additives that increase the plasticity of the product—which do not belong in soils. And even if they do not, “compostables” are devoid of nutrients and don’t add any benefits to compost. Last but not least, they often break down in the composting process very poorly.

All of these issues caused me to implement a policy of not accepting any ”compostable” disposable products, with the exception of brown paper towels and coffee filters. I’m sure I’ve lost business opportunities from that decision, but I need to be true to my values. I also feel that this decision has allowed me to educate people on the dubious benefits of “compostable” disposables.

Like anything that’s labeled ”green,” there are always down sides to consider and minimize, and I want to run my business with an eye toward “walking the talk.” For example, I develop pickup routes that are compact to help minimize my driving time and associated carbon emissions. I sometimes turn down potential customers because they are too far off my existing routes, and the carbon emissions involved in driving there would be too much to justify.

The question of scale also comes up. Larger haulers are a better fit for food-based businesses because of their bigger vehicles and the smaller carbon footprint that is thereby created per unit of food scraps composted. Composting large volumes can also be more affordable with these haulers because their costs are spread among more people. Yet small non-food based businesses and households in many areas do not have easy access to a large-scale composting option, and I believe the gas I use to serve them is outweighed by other benefits to the climate, to the soil, and to simply making composting a mainstream practice.

For more information about Earthgirl Composting or to sign up for compost pickup services for your home or office, visit earthgirlcomposting.com or call Megan at 802-223-1271.

Photos courtesy of Earthgirl Composting

About the Author

Megan Kolbay

Megan Kolbay

Megan, her partner, and son live in Montpelier and works toward a life of self-reliance and sustainability.

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A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


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