Become a Master Composter

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Tompkins Weekly 1-12-15

By Adam Michaelides

Though the balmy days of summer may seem like a distant dream, the Master Composters are preparing. This time each year, 15 to 20 Tompkins County residents are trained to be expert composters, and community educators. Over the course of the year, this group speaks with thousands of people about their composting practices at classes, festivals and the annual Compost Fair. These volunteers support the goals of our County to minimize waste and keep organics out of the trash.

Home composting has been described as “the ultimate sustainable action.” Why? The practice provides a tidy solution to several problems. The first is what to do with all of the stuff that I no longer need; items like banana peels, egg shells, branches, dead leaves and more. Through composting, what was once considered a “waste” can now be described as an “input” for the compost.

The second problem that compost addresses is how to keep the soil fertile and conducive to growing things. You may love roses, or need shrubs for privacy. Or you may be trying to grow more of your food for environmental reasons, or just to save a few bucks on the grocery bill. Even if it is just a healthy, green lawn, adding compost to amend the soil will help.

Composting at home also addresses the greater problems of fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca have ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse emissions in the coming years. We can all be part of the solution by the choices we make with our waste. Composting organics at home require no fossil fuels; you simply move materials from your kitchen, yard or garden to somewhere on the premises and the myriad of decomposing organisms (the doers”) do the rest. Small, but numerous critters like bacteria, fungi and invertebrates consume your unneeded materials, and leave a rich, useful product behind – all without fossil fuels!

As anyone who has tried home composting will tell you, there are a few things to learn before starting. Master Composters are the perfect people to assist. They are trained to help people figure out what kind of bin to use, where to put the compost, what materials to include and what to keep out, and they convey many other best composting practices. With this support, common pitfalls like odor, annoying flies, pests and the like are easily avoided.

Master Composters also help people solve problems. What do I do if my landlord won’t let me compost? What can I do with meat scraps if I can’t put them in the home compost? The neighbor’s dog is getting into my compost – what can I do? Usually trained Master Composters know the answer, but sometimes they need to consult with the “Rotline” or Compost Hotline at Cooperative Extension.

Ultimately, Master Composters carry the torch for home composting in our community. They visit schools and talk to kids about composting. They stand by the cans at events and help people properly separate their discards (and understand why they should bother to do so). Many Master Composters are on “green teams” or in groups at their school, workplace or community. Master Composters help friends, coworkers, neighbors and family members set up compost systems and continue on as resource people.

Last, but not least Master Composters have fun! Let’s face it; people who commit themselves to dozens of hours learning about compost are special people. Master Composters get together for potlucks, field trips and holiday parties every year. It’s a vibrant network… not unlike the busy decomposer organisms in the compost heap.

The 2015 Master Composter training starts in early February and goes through April. Training classes are held every Wednesday evening at the Cooperative Extension in Ithaca from 6:30 – 8:30pm, with the exception of three Wednesdays over school breaks for a total of 10 two-hour classes. A couple of the classes are field trips. In addition to the classes, Master Composters in training volunteer to help teach classes, give presentations and participate in events. The hands-on experience is a valuable part of the training program. After they graduate in late April after the Compost Fair, new Master Composters continue to volunteer in the community, and lead projects of their own.

To learn more, or for an application, visit us online at:  or give us a call at 607-272-2292. Application packets are also available at the front desk at Cooperative Extension, 615 Willow Ave. THE DEADLINE TO APPLY FOR THE 2015 MASTER COMPOSTER TRAINING IS FRIDAY, JANUARY 23! For questions about the Master Composter program and training, contact Adam Michaelides by email or phone.

Let’s continue reducing waste, feeding our soils and protecting the environmental systems that sustain us all. Compost!

Adam Michaelides is the Program Manager for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County’s Compost Education Program. He trained as a Master Composter in 2000. The Compost Education Program is funded by the Tompkins County Solid Waste Management Division.

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