Recruiting Tompkins County Master Composters

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Tompkins Weekly     1-24-24

By Adam Michaelides

Several years ago, a Tompkins County Master Composter said, “Composting is the ultimate sustainable action.” Although his statement seemed a bit bold at the time, it also stuck with me.

Composting involves the transformation of once-alive items back into the organic part of the soil. By using finished compost to grow plants, we help to complete the cycle of life. This is a sustainable practice because the building blocks of life are sustained. Material is transformed from waste to resources.

Compare this to the unsustainable practice of hermetically sealing organic discards in an airtight plastic bag, trucking them to the landfill, and burying them in toxic debris. It’s as if we have done our very best to prevent the cycle of life from being sustained. However, nature wins in the end. Eventually, even the most impervious of plastic landfill liners crack, gasses seep out, and plastic bits make their way into the waterway.

Master Composters and Ithaca Community Gardeners carry the three-bin Compost Learning Collaborative bin to a safe spot. Photo provided.

Many local communities have found creative ways to compost. Colleagues at the Tompkins County Department of Recycling and Materials Management host 16 “drop spots” around the County for residents to “fork over” their food scraps. The Department brings the material they collect to Cayuga Compost in Trumansburg for processing.

Many apartment and cooperative housing units have set up compost bins on their property. With frequent resident turnover, there is always a need to recruit and educate new people. The bins require management, and sometimes they need a complete reboot. Master Composters offer consultations and support the groups to train new people and manage the compost.

Composting is also practiced at area community gardens. Gardeners grow food in plots and generate a lot of discards throughout the season. These weeds, cuttings, leaves, and dead plants can all be composted within the garden. Whatever compost is produced is worked right back into the garden the following season.

The Compost Education Program has set up community compost sites at three community gardens in the area. Trained gardeners are invited to bring their food scraps to special, onsite bins. The “rot resistant and rat resistant” bins are completely enclosed and have locking lids. After a short training, Compost Learning Collaborative (CLC) members receive the combination to the lock. They agree to only put in certain items and log the weight of their food scraps each time. To date, over 3,500 pounds of food scraps have been added to the community bin at the Freeville Community Garden!

For five years, the Compost Program managed similar bins at the Ithaca Community Gardens. In 2021, with Carpenter Park slated for development, our site had to move. A work crew of 15 Master Composters and Ithaca Community Gardeners hoisted the 1500-pound, 3-bin unit and carried it to a safe spot. Since then, much has changed at the Gardens. There was a land swap with the developers, and some of the garden plots were relocated. Carpenter Circle (the road) was rerouted. The Gardens now have a new fence, sheds, and a large gazebo. After some sitework last fall, the Compost Program also has a new location. This spring, we will reconstruct our site.

The Compost Program’s third Compost Learning Collaborative site moved from Groton when the community garden dissolved. This year, the Compost Program will be looking for a new site. Are you a community garden or other organization that would like to host a community bin? Check out to learn more and look for an application to become our newest CLC site.

Master Composters (MCs) are involved in constructing bins and managing all the CLC sites. They work to recruit and train people to participate. MCs also staff education booths, co-teach public classes, give presentations, and dream up exciting independent projects. Master Composters teach the training classes, and mentor new volunteers at community gardens, cooperative housing units, and local events.

Each spring, the Compost Program at CCETC trains a new cohort of Tompkins County Master Composters. The training includes ten, 2-hour evening classes and 20 matching hours of “practical internship.” The practical internship gives trainees the opportunity to practice what they learn in class and bring real world experiences back to the classroom. By May, most new graduates report feeling comfortable confident in their role as a Master Composter.

The Compost Education Program is currently accepting applications for the 2024 Master Composter training until 11:59pm on Monday, January 29. To find out more and apply, visit . Once the deadline passes, qualified applicants will be invited for a short interview. Since there are limited spots, many applicants will mean a competitive process. All questions can be sent to the Program Manager, Adam Michaelides, via email or the “Rotline” (compost hotline) 607-272-2292.

This year, join me in composting everything you can. The planet needs each of us to live as sustainably as possible.

Adam Michaelides is the Program Manager for the Compost Education Program at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County. The Compost Education Program is funded by the Tompkins County Department of Recycling and Materials Management.

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