As I prepare kale for dinner, I guide my knife along the long, tough stem, separating it from the tender leaves. Once I finish the bunch, I gather the undesirable odds and ends and move toward the trash. I think, as I have a thousand times before, that there must be a better way to dispose of my kitchen scraps, but lacking the time and tools to compost, I swallow my misgivings and throw it all in the garbage.
This was my daily routine until I discovered Santa Cruz Composting Co., the bicycle-powered residential compost collection service serving the city of Santa Cruz from Shaffer Road and Delaware Avenue to Capitola’s Jewel Box. Now that I’ve subscribed to their $5 weekly service, I fill the five-gallon bucket they provide with my organic trash, which is collected weekly and transformed into rich garden gold.
The Compost Fairy behind this ingenious system is Ivy Young, a local woman who became an entrepreneur when she realized the dearth of composting services in the community. “The city is trying to get something together, but they have to go through a lot of red tape,” says Young. “It made me really sad because I knew how much food was being thrown away without other options.” Now, each week she and her team collect waste from more than 300 households and bring it to the Homeless Garden Project’s Westside farm to become garden fertilizer. Food waste makes up a large percentage of landfill, but can easily be transformed into a valuable resource via programs like Young’s, which is modeled after the Compost Pedallers, a similar program in Austin. Since she started in 2014, Santa Cruz Composting Co. has diverted more than 200,000 pounds of waste from the landfill. Says Young, “We’re grabbing a drop in the bucket of the waste in the community.”
You can also have your compost returned to you to use in your own garden. Young keeps meticulous notes on the waste produced by each household and awards each one via a point system per pound. “The way I see it, it’s an extra monthly bill, so we want people to feel like they get something back,” says Young. For every 20 pounds of waste, the household receives five pounds of compost, or other gifts and rewards from her Compost Rewards Program. Whatever’s leftover goes to the Homeless Garden Project in exchange for the space.