Conor MacDonald, standing, and Alexis MacDonald of Bo' Lait dairy farm work around their kitchen table on a compost plan with Mark King, seated second from left, of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Mark Hedrich, seated right, of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Credit: Courtesy of John Bott

Conor and Alexis MacDonald have all the manure and hay they need to make compost on their Washington organic Bo’ Lait dairy farm but were looking for a little something to give it a nutrient boost.

Meanwhile, Davis Saltonstall and Tessa Rosenberry are collecting food waste and scraps around midcoast Maine as a compost ingredient with their Camden-based Scrapdogs Community Compost and needed space to expand their operations.

Thanks to some assistance and a grant from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Bo’ Lait dairy farm and Scrapdogs Community Compost are working together to produce nutrient-dense compost and taking food scraps out of the waste stream.

A perfect match

“From my standpoint, bringing together Bo’ Lait Farms and Scrapdogs is fantastic,” Mark King, environmental specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said. “These young farmers have teamed up with these young folks making curbside [food-waste] collection to realize a vision of creating this value added product that is helping the environment.”

The $17,500 DEP Recycling and Organics Management Initiatives grant was one of seven awarded in Maine this summer totaling $88,500.

“We didn’t even know the grants existed,” Alexis MacDonald said. “My husband had expressed an interest in composting to [Mark King], and then someone reached out to us.”

That someone was Travis Blackmer, research associate with the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions at the University of Maine.

“Travis really got the ball going,” Alexis MacDonald said. “We could not have done it without him.”

The birth of a partnership

Blackmer was able to match the MacDonalds with Scrapdogs, and with the grant funding a business partnership was born.

“We had been navigating on our own what it would look like to collect waste and turn it into compost,” Alexis MacDonald said, “But since it’s just my husband and I here on the farm, we were not sure how much time we could commit to collecting food scraps and waste, so the fact we got linked to Scrapdogs is huge.”

Before joining forces with Bo’ Lait, Scrapdogs was processing the up to one ton a month in collected food scraps by hand in a greenhouse-type building they were outgrowing.

“As we collected more and more waste, we needed a place that could accept that food waste,” Saltonstall said. “The MacDonalds were looking for ‘stock’ to increase the nutrient value of their compost. Now we have a place to take our scraps as our business grows, and they are getting better compost.”

Reducing landfill waste

Not only does this create a value-added product in the compost, it also has a huge impact on reducing food scraps in the landfills, King said.

“Food scraps are about 85 percent water, and when that is in a landfill that water percolates down through the garbage and requires increased treatment,” King said. “The food scraps also take up valuable space in landfills that only have so much room for garbage in the first place.”

Under its current business plan, Scrapdogs collects the food scraps from its clients with the intent to return it in the form of nutrient-rich compost after several months of processing.

The DEP grant allowed the MacDonalds to construct a 75-foot-by-100-foot gravel base on which to process the food scraps into the manure and hay. Funds from the grant will also be used to fund the tuition for Alexis and Conor MacDonald and for Saltonstall and Rosenberry to attend the Maine Compost School and to purchase specialized composting equipment.

Working on the process

“We still have work to do with Bo’ Lait to perfect the art of composting,” Blackmer said, “We are working with them, the DEP and the [Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry] to create the optimum [compost] recipe and [learn] how to effectively manage it.”

Blackmer said it may take a few months, but once that process is fully developed there will be some quality compost coming off Bo’ Lait farms.

The compost that does not go back to Scrapdogs’ clients can be sold to area gardeners and landscapers.

“It may be until next summer before we have a good batch to sell,” Blackmer said. “But once we do, what goes in as food scraps, manure and hay will come out six months later or so as a wonderful soil amendment.”

Both organizations say that without the other, they wouldn’t have been able to expand operations.

“Processing compost in an old greenhouse by hand is a lot of work,” he said. “So being able to work with a farm that has manure ready to mix in with a tractor was extremely helpful to us to scale up.”

So far those scraps have come from private residences, a midcoast winery, a tofu processing business and local coffee shops.

Great potential

“There is really so much potential here for a great business relationship,” King said. “And that is really one of the goals of the grants — to get these community based, grassroots movements going to keep nutrients local and create value added products”

Other grants awarded were $7,500 to Falmouth to establish and operate three food-scrap drop-off kiosks; $5,650 to the University of Maine at Presque Isle for a year-round composting operation; $9,155 to the Central Penobscot Solid Waste Facility ton construct a reuse barn at its transfer station; $10,300 to the Maine resource Recovery Association for a waste PVC recycling trial project; and $38,578 to Pleasant River Farms to expand on-site composting operations and collection services.

There will be another round of grants, totally $110,000, available next year.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.