PILE OF POTENTIAL — Stephan Barron, 31, turns the compost pile he manages at Beaten Path Compost, located at GROW HUB, 2900 NE 8 Ave., on Thursday, Sep. 10. The pile ranges from 130 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, depending which stage of decomposition it is at. Steam releases from the pile as he turns it, a wave of earthy smell accompanying it. “There will be times when it is [smelly] no matter what though, but I believe we need to be okay with that, and accept the process of decomposition, of life and death, because it is something we are all tied to,” Barron said. (Victoria Vargas/WUFT News)

Composting Business Sees Rapid Growth In Gainesville

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Gainesville is one of 13 cities nationwide to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will help fund a food waste and composting pilot program.

If you want to participate:
The service will be offered to the Sugarfoot neighborhood and certain neighborhoods along Northwest 16th Avenue between 13th and 43rd Streets, Heimbach wrote. The program will run for 18 months and costs $50. If interested, you can contact Heimbach at heimbachmj@cityofgainesville.org

It starts April 1, 2021, and Michael Heimbach, sustainability manager in the city’s Solid Waste Division, wrote in an email on Friday that the USDA will contribute $51,000, while the city will kick in $17,000 fund the rest of the program.

The program will provide five-gallon buckets to about 200 single-family homes in Gainesville and will partner with two local organizations — Growing Real Opportunities to Work – Harvest of Urban Business (GROW HUB) and Working Food — to assist in education and infrastructure.

While this grant will expand composting to more people in the area, this is not the first time Gainesville residents will be exposed to the realm of composting.

A one-person operation

Stephan Barron owns Beaten Path Compost and will become the contracted community composter with the city to collect and process the food waste into compost for sale to the community, Heimbach wrote.

Barron said he hopes this opportunity will allow him to finally hire someone to help with his operations, as he has been the sole employee of Beaten Path since its beginning.

Barron said in an email on Monday that he chose to make composting a business about two years ago following the end of a garden project. He previously worked with Gainesville Compost, allowing the business to use some of his garden space in exchange for free compost. When Gainesville Compost ended its operations, Beaten Path absorbed its clientele.

You might recall the days of seeing a bike hauling a trailer of buckets around town. Now, Barron said he drives around in his pickup truck on Mondays, swapping out compost buckets and cans for residential homes and local businesses, respectively. The route takes a couple of hours to complete, said Barron.

He then takes all the food waste he collected back to GROW HUB, where the compost pile resides. Located at 2900 NE 8th Ave., the nonprofit serves as a place for nursery stock management, gardening and plant sales. The nonprofit was created in 2016. It is a “safe place where adults of all abilities can find meaningful work,” according to the GROW HUB website.

Barron said GROW HUB offered him the space in exchange for cultivating the land he uses. The now green-covered plot flowing with plants and chickens where Beaten Path Compost is located was once only dirt, he said.

On Wednesdays, Barron’s miles are fewer: He sets up a bucket swap where people can come with their full buckets and switch them out for clean, empty ones.

“This service gives me a chance to relax for a minute and chat with friends who come by,” he said. “Anything I receive for this is donation based and is not much.”

On Thursday mornings, he processes all the food he collected the previous day.

While COVID-19 has hindered business for some, Barron said his clients have more than tripled.

“I think this is due to people becoming more aware that the planet is hurting, that we need to start handling our waste better and doing everything we can to help slow the now ever apparent oncoming climate shift,” he said.

He serves around 45 residential clients and 13 restaurants.

About the composting process

Composting can be the final step to living a waste-free lifestyle, said Amanda Waddle, Repurpose Project’s Director of Zero Waste. The Repurpose Project is a nonprofit shop where people can find a plethora of secondhand items that would have otherwise been thrown away by other thrift stores.

Living waste-free can seem tough, Waddle said. It means creating little to no waste in your life. However, one should not be intimidated by this goal, as it is more about the journey than the destination, she said.

Waddle, who focuses on providing education and outreach opportunities for living more sustainably, said living waste-free begins with upstream solutions, or wasting less on the front end. This involves making more conscious decisions like planning what foods you will be eating before grocery shopping. Planning helps people understand their connection to nature, she said.

“In nature, nothing is wasted,” said Waddle.

Composting comes into play in the downstream of waste, where food would otherwise be thrown into the trash can. Food waste thrown into the trash goes into landfills, where it emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, as it breaks down. By diverting this food waste into compost, you are directly reducing these emissions and helping to create a circular economy.

According to Waddle, in a circular economy, resources stay in a closed system. It keeps products in use rather than being disposed of in landfills. One must ask if their personal items are “designed for the dump,” said Waddle. This creates a system where we value resources, she said. Instead of being thrown out, items are repaired, reused, recycled, or sent to rot, like in composting.

Waddle said her family began composting a decade ago, where they created a backyard compost pile. Waddle began using Beaten Path’s services in January, as it had the means to compost more tricky items like meat, dairy and oils, she said.

Her family is subscribed to Beaten Path’s bucket system, where they simply place any food scraps or other compostable materials in a large bucket provided by Beaten Path. She can empty the bucket herself at one of the drop-off locations throughout the city or have it picked up on Mondays when Barron goes on his route. The pickup services range from $15 to $20 a month, Barron said.

Harry Sanchez, owner of Two Farms, One Dream in Bronson, also offers a composting program for residents of Alachua and Levy County. He said he worked with Barron to help with his weekly pickup and to develop Beaten Path’s current subscription system.

“It’s kind of an endearing thing to know that Stephan’s side of it is growing. He’s very central in the city,” Sanchez said. “I think that’s where we need it most.”

However, he said he would like to see more people in less central areas, like the suburbs and the rural areas where he lives, begin composting on their own. This, Sanchez said, makes people more conscious of their food decisions and can change their perception of how we view food systems.

About Victoria Vargas

Victoria is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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