While it may seem like a new concept, composting has been around for thousands of years. The Greeks, Egyptians and Romans all practiced composting by taking dirty straw from animals stalls and burying it in the fields that they were cultivating. There are even references to composting in the Talmud. The Greek and Hebrew words for composting were originally translated as “dung piles,” but archaeologists now know that these really refer to compost piles. One thousand years before Moses was born, people were composting, and writings from the tenth and twelfth centuries show that there were actually directions for how to compost and text regarding its importance to agriculture.
Fast-forward to today: The EPA estimates that we have over 10,000 composting operations of all sizes in the US. One of the fastest growing is the segment of home composting programs, which can now be found across the nation.
Here in Bethesda, MD, we have a unique company that is really making inroads into the home composting business. Ryan Walter, founder and owner of The Compost Crew, says he was influenced by the culture of entrepreneurism and the spirit to help and credits his Jewish roots for giving him the confidence he has today in running his business, which he founded in 2011.
Walter saw that the burgeoning food movement, including the increase in the number of fresh food outlets like farmers markets, was gaining momentum, and he saw the need to divert food scraps from landfills and incinerators. “Composting is a logical and sustainable way of managing our food cycle,” Ryan explains. “When food products go to landfills or incinerators, they releases methane gas, which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”
Instead of throwing the food out, The Compost Crew’s alternative is to pick up the food scraps from customers’ homes and compost them. This puts the nutrients back into the earth and eventually into our food systems since the resulting compost can be used as fertilizer for our farms and even our own gardens!
Despite challenges, Walter has been very successful at keeping people motivated about composting. The Compost Crew was recently awarded the prestigious Green Award given out annually by Bethesda Magazine and Bethesda Green, a local nonprofit. The award recognized the work that the company is doing to protect the environment.
Walter shares, “To date we service thousands of homes and have composted more that one million pounds of compostables. In addition, we launched a program in conjunction with Central Farm Markets called CompostKids that allows kids to collect all their great compostables at home and bring them each week to the Bethesda Central Farm Market to be composted. The kids get a treat for their hard work, and after they have collected ten weeks’ worth of compostables, they get a gift certificate.”
When asked to identify some acceptable compostables that would surprise people, Walters responded, “Paper towels, pizza boxes and cotton, including any 100-percent-cotton article of clothing.”
Educating more people has allowed The Compost Crew to expand into Northern Virginia where they are getting great reviews and lots of food scraps and compostable materials. They use several channels to spread the word including social media, a stellar outside sales team, which can be found, among other places, at the farmers markets, and recommendations from happy customers.
Walter’s creativity and perseverance has changed the way we interact with our environment, our habits and our culture. In Judaism, we are instructed to preserve the earth for generations to come, and that exactly is what Ryan Walter and The Compost Crew are helping us to do.
Top photo: The Compost Crew at Bethesda Central Farm Market.