• Set the Table with Switchel

    Set the Table with Switchel

    Long a staple in Northeast hayfields as a thirst quencher and restorative, switchel—alternatively called “haymaker’s punch” —was a colonial era proto-Gatorade, a source of both hydration and electrolyte replenishment. Recipes vary, but the most common ingredients were molasses, cider vinegar, and ginger, mixed to taste in a jug of very cold well water. While the concoction could have provided benefit to all manner of laborers and sporting folks, its use was particularly common among the workers of the hayfield and the children who carried the switchel jug to them.

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  • Bartered, Smuggled, and Bought

    Bartered, Smuggled, and Bought

    When the Upper Valley Localvores took their first 100–mile diet challenge in August 2005, we came upon a serious stumbling block. No local salt! Tomatoes and corn–on–the–cob were abundant, but oh, we needed salt. Fortunately, one of our members had vacationed in Maine and brought back a precious supply of sea salt. It made us wonder what our Upper Valley ancestors had done for salt.

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  • Eat it on the Radio

    Eat it on the Radio

    In his book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Vermont author and environmentalist Bill McKibben focuses on the importance of strong communities for the health and well-being of the planet and its people. He suggests that we can strengthen our home regions by producing more of our own food, generating more of our own energy, and even creating more of our own culture and entertainment. To achieve these goals, McKibben advises, we need to build or rebuild local institutions that draw people together, and one such institution that he cites in his book is a low-power radio station in the Mad River Valley: WMRW-LP Warren, 95.1 FM.

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  • A Passion for Artisan Soap

    A Passion for Artisan Soap

    My soap-making journey started a decade or so ago, when I was becoming more and more sensitized (allergic) to mainstream, detergent-type soaps. Eventually I just couldn’t use them anymore. As I researched the subject, I became alarmed at what was being used in cosmetic products on the market, not to mention all the harmful chemicals leaching into our waterways as a result of those products. I decided to start making my own soap, and the enthusiasm I had back then for soap making has now turned into a passion and a business for me. My only regret is that I didn’t start making them sooner!

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  • Halal in the Hills

    Halal in the Hills

    Art Meade is a 59-year-old livestock and poultry farmer with a thick Maine accent and a farm on Route 100 in Morrisville. He also happens to run the only state-licensed slaughter facility in Vermont that caters to Muslims who practice halal slaughter. This is the Muslim tradition of swiftly slitting the throat of a domesticated meat animal with a sharp knife; the animal is believed to be killed instantly and painlessly (though there is some debate about that). Muslims, who are directed by their religion to eat halal meat, can purchase such meat in Vermont stores, but some prefer to do the slaughter themselves.

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  • How to Start a Community Garden

    How to Start a Community Garden

    Back in January, as my husband and I searched for a place to live in Middlebury, we had big plans to create a summer vegetable garden. But it quickly became clear that housing in town with gardening space wouldn’t be easy to find. Apartments that advertised a “big yard” always seemed to have a “scruffy lawn,” and few landlords reacted well to my desire to dig out a portion of that lawn to plant vegetables.

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  • The Story of Bread

    The Story of Bread

    Green Mountain Flour, a new artisan bakery in Windsor owned and operated by Zachary Stremlau and Daniella Malin, takes a unique approach to its craft: it uses local wheat, local milling, and local fuel to create its flours, breads, and pizzas. Here, woodcuts that comprise the bakery’s logo tell “the story of bread,” echoing a time in early New England when, according to Zachary and Daniella, “the farmers knew the miller, the miller milled with stone, and the baker baked with fire.”

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  • How to Get Grounded

    How to Get Grounded

    On a road in Cabot, not far from the land that Laura Dale and Cyrus Pond bought this past March, you can look out to the west at a horizon dominated by the undulating spine of the Green Mountains. For many young farmers in Vermont, the cost of land can seem as daunting and insurmountable as the largest of those mountains in the dead of winter.

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  • Tapping for Taste

    Tapping for Taste

    There are people in Vermont who prefer fake maple syrup—not just people who are looking for something cheaper but who actually prefer the stuff made of corn syrup. There are other people in Vermont who don’t talk to those fake syrup types. And there are Vermonters who stand by Grade B for all occasions and others who keep a little Fancy on hand.

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  • Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    In the not-so-distant past, eating locally was a way of life and a matter of necessity. For four generations, the Robinson family farmed in Ferrisburgh, at the place known today as the Rokeby Museum. The museum’s collection includes correspondence and household records detailing the family’s ways of farming, preserving, and eating. In the last of this four-part series, we take a look at how the Robinsons cooked, ate, and farmed in the late 1800s.

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  • Classy Wheat

    Classy Wheat

    Last year, I arrived at The Putney School as their new gardener and was tasked with getting the high school students at this Putney boarding and day school excited about gardening. Early on, the farm manager told me he had planted some wheat on the edge of one of the farm’s hayfields. I was intrigued.

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  • Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

    Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

    As I downshift off the Putney exit of I-91, my husband, Jerry, is roused from his dozing by the hollow sound of several hundred jostling maple syrup jugs. It’s April, time to buy containers for our maple syrup at Bascom’s 10% container sale, and time to post Farm Camp flyers.

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  • The First Localvores

    The First Localvores

    I have always been fascinated by wild foods. When I was a kid growing up in Indiana we had a copy of Euell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and I remember how exciting it was to read about eating cattails, making acorn flour, and brewing sassafras tea. As I recall, the cattail stalks tasted a bit like mild turnips, the acorn flour was tannic and needed a lot of processing before being edible, and the tea tasted like something just this side of root beer. Little did I know as a kid that wild edibles such as cattails and acorns were just a couple of the foods historically gathered and consumed by the first people to inhabit the state I would one day call home.

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  • Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

    Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

    “The farming of our fathers was exceedingly simple, content to draw from a virgin soil the supplies of simple wants, instead of aiming itself for their increase. With the impoverishment of the soil, with the forests almost swept off the face of the country and the consequent climate change, with the multiplied wants of society and development of so many new industries, the highest intelligence and energies are required to remodel our system of agriculture so that it may fully meet the demands made upon it.

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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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