- (Public Value) UCANR: Promoting healthy people and communities
Lamb Canyon is a Class III Sanitary Landfill covering 1189 acres, with 144.6 acres permitted for landfilling. Opened in 1970, its service area includes Beaumont, Banning, San Jacinto, Hemet, Coachella Valley, Pine Cove, Idyllwild, Cherry Valley, Cabazon, Homeland, Romoland, and Winchester. In 2022, it processed an impressive 606,481 tons of waste.
Waste Management and Sustainability
Our tour began at the scale house, where incoming vehicles are weighed to calculate the amount of waste delivered. With approximately 300 vehicles weighed daily, this step is essential for effective landfill management. Because of increasing customer traffic, the facility is currently upgrading its scales, roadways, and traffic signs.
Our next stop was the organics collection and composting area. Composting at this site is a 15-day process that turns green waste (excluding food waste) into compost used for erosion control within the landfill. There are plans to make compost available to the public at the Reuse Store.
Exploring Landfill Operations
Heavy machinery, including dozers and compactors, is used to break down and compress the waste. Pipes collect methane gas and carry it to a flare station where it is burned and safely released to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and water vapor. A drainage system collects leachate, the liquid filtering through the landfill, to protect groundwater. Leachate is then stored in tanks and recycled for dust control within the landfill. Parts of the landfill also have a liner to contain leachate.
At night, waste in the active part of the landfill is covered with tarps to shed surface water, prevent fires, and reduce scavenging by animals which spread disease. Drones and falcons are used to keep birds at bay.
Surprisingly, the landfill also contains a 200-acre conservation area, providing habitat for a variety of sensitive plant and animal species including western sycamores, mountain lions, burrowing owls, and red-tailed hawks.
An Eye-Opening Experience Open to All
At the end of our tour, we received gift bags containing recycled and reusable goodies. More importantly, we left with a better understanding of where our trash goes and the engineering required to protect the environment. The volume of waste managed here emphasizes the importance of recycling, reusing, and reducing waste in our daily lives.
If you're interested in exploring Lamb Canyon Landfill, free guided tours are available from March through October, Monday through Thursday, for groups of 10 to 42 people. For more information, visit the Riverside County Department of Waste Resources website at https://rcwaste.org/education-center.
Have you enjoyed reading this blog? Do you have questions? Need help with environmental education? Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you and supporting you.
In my previous blog, I gave an overview of the first two days of COMPOST2023. The event, hosted by the The US Composting Council in January, was an outstanding learning and networking experience. In Part 2, I'm excited to discuss the rest of the event, including the conference sessions at the Ontario Convention Center and Demo Day at One Stop Landscape Supply.
After the keynote, I wandered over to the Exhibit Hall, eager to check out the vendors and information tables. Major equipment vendors such as Komptech and Ecoverse showcased their massive composting machines, while product manufacturers offered samples of compostable bags and utensils. One of the biggest trends was biochar—a carbon-rich, charcoal-like substance created by burning organic material without oxygen. It was interesting to see that even pistachio shells can be used to produce this substance! When blended with compost, biochar enriches the soil by increasing its moisture retention, nutrient content, and microbial activity.
The final presentation I attended on opening day was “Healthy Soils for Healthy Parks: Los Angeles Urban Carbon Farm at Griffith Park” by Lynn Fang, a well-known educator and researcher in composting systems and soil science. LA Compost recently established its first park-based compost site at Griffith Park, using food waste collected from local farmers market drop-offs. Lynn's presentation highlighted a demonstration project of the Healthy Soils for Healthy Communities Initiative, led by TreePeople in partnership with LA Parks and Recreation, Kiss the Ground, and LA Compost, to promote regenerative park management. The study site was a flat, grassy area south of Crystal Springs, where individual plots were treated with mulch from Griffith Park, compost from LA Compost, or no amendment as a control. After 9 months, the researchers found that mulch and compost increased the activity of soil organisms and the percentage of soil organic carbon.
Other panelists showed how technology can facilitate community composting. Tess Feigenbaum, the Cofounder and Operations Director at Epic Renewal in Rhode Island, announced plans to release a mobile application to help with compost site management, process tracking, data collection, and environmental impact reporting. Sashti Balasundaram, the Founder and CEO of WeRadiate, is leading the development of smart sensors for compost piles, which measure temperature and moisture with remote, real-time monitoring.
The final panelist to speak was Elinor Crescenzi, who shared data on the 31 Community Composting for Green Spaces (CCGS) sites in the Inland Empire. Despite a modest $224K budget for labor and infrastructure, these sites managed to divert about 510K lbs of food scraps and 3.7M lbs of organic material from landfills, resulting in emissions reductions equivalent to 908 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That's similar to taking 200 vehicles off the road for one year! In addition to the environmental impacts, the CCGS program also had significant community and social impacts, such as increasing healthy food access, community engagement and education, social support networks, and psychological well-being. Ninety percent of the sites are growing food in addition to making compost.
Another interesting session was “Compost Market Dynamics in California”. One of the speakers was Jeff Ziegenbein, the site manager of the largest indoor compost facility in North America, the Inland Empire Regional Composting Facility (IERCF). Located in Rancho Cucamonga, the facility produces over 200K cubic yards of compost annually from recycled wood and green waste, biosolids, and horse stable bedding using the Aerated Static Pile process. The composting area is completely enclosed to meet air quality regulations. The filtering system does such a good job at odor control I didn't even know this facility is literally in my backyard. The compost, marketed under the SoilPro brand, is used in a variety of applications, including landscaping, horticulture, turf management, agriculture, and roadways.
After attending the morning sessions, I returned to the Exhibit Hall for some Q&A with the finalists of the Emerging Composter Competition. The first place winner was Greg Mankowski of Evolve Pet Composting Services and Consultation in Michigan. His business is very timely, as more and more states, including California, are passing laws to allow human composting. Second place was Justin Brann of Crystal Coast Compost in North Carolina, who composts food waste from many sources, including residences, businesses, farmers markets, and events. Third place was Jameson Meyst of Juicycles, who collects unpicked fruit from San Diego orchards, juices it onsite, and distributes juice and fruit popsicles to the community while composting the remaining waste.
My favorite day of COMPOST2023 was Demo Day, which took place at One Stop Landscaping Supply in Redlands. The place is huge, making it the perfect setting for demonstrations of large-scale composting equipment. As a volunteer, my day started early to direct traffic to the parking area and hand out safety gear to the attendees.
Despite the loud noise of the equipment, the wild burros grazing around the parking lot seemed unfazed. Having only heard about herds of burros roaming San Timoteo Canyon, I was thrilled to see them up close. Although they were quite shy and wandered away when approached, many drivers stopped to snap some photos before heading out.
If this blog has piqued your interest in COMPOST2023, you can find the recordings at Compost University on the US Composting Council website. I'm already looking forward to next year's conference at the Ocean Center Convention Center in Dayton Beach, Florida from February 6th to 9th. The theme of COMPOST2024 is “Making Waves”, which is fitting given the impact composting is sure to have for years to come.
Have you enjoyed reading this blog? Do you have questions? Need help with school gardens or environmental education? Feel free to contact me at email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
I couldn't believe it when I heard that COMPOST2023, billed as “the world's largest composting event”, was going to be held in Ontario, California in January. What were the odds that a composting enthusiast such as myself would be so close to the action? I'm so glad I was able to attend as a volunteer! This year's theme was “Capturing Carbon Renewing Soil”, emphasizing the importance of composting in reducing carbon emissions and enhancing soil health.
COMPOST2023 ran from Monday, January 23rd to Friday, January 27th, starting with two days of pre-conference activities. On the first day, I attended the Cultivating Community Composting Forum at the Ontario Convention Center. The second day was a Field Day with bus tours of local composting sites. I attended conference sessions at the Convention Center on Wednesday and Thursday and volunteered for Demo Day at One Stop Landscape Supply on Friday. It was a lot to absorb in such a short time.
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) coordinated the Cultivating Community Composting Forum and related Field Day activities. ISLR's Composting for Community Initiative works to advance “local composting to create jobs, enhance soils, protect the climate, and reduce waste through advocacy, training, research, demonstration sites, and coalition building”. The goals of the forum were to share best practices and build support for small-scale, community-based composting.
After a short break, the forum attendees reconvened for two peer-to-peer chat sessions on topics including scaling up, business and mission planning, funding and financing, and communications. I attended the sessions on community building and composting methods and best practices. These chats gave me the opportunity to share experiences with composters from across the country–from Peels & Wheels Composting in New Haven, Connecticut to ReMark Composting Solutions in Detroit to Hart's Worm Farm in Irvine.
The afternoon agenda consisted of two concurrent presentation sessions followed by two panels. One of the most memorable presentations was “Generating Excitement About Community Composting in an Urban, Chronically Marginalized Community” by Marvin Hayes and Kenny Moss of the Baltimore Compost Collective. Marvin is the Executive Director of the Collective which collects food scraps from residences and composts them at the Filbert Street Community Garden. Kenny, a student leader in the youth entrepreneurship program, helps manage the composting operations. In a catchy poem, Marvin described the role of composting this way: “Learn so we don't have to burn. Starve the incinerator. Feed the soil. Feed the Community! Clean air for Baltimore.” In 2022, the Baltimore Compost Collective served over 300 customers and increased its waste diversion by 40%.
Kourtnii Brown told the story of how the California Alliance for Community Composting (CACC) launched 120 community composting hubs with a $1.54M Community Composting for Green Spaces grant from CalRecycle. The network of composting sites spanned the state in 6 regions: the Bay Area, Fresno & Central California, the Inland Empire, Greater Los Angeles, Sacramento & Northern California, and Greater San Diego. CACC provided on-site support with skilled staff, infrastructure, community building, and program development. In the summer of 2021, CACC held a Soil Stewardship Training retreat (also called “Soil Summer Camp”) at Amy's Farm to train the trainers at the composting sites. Training recordings are available for public view on YouTube. Since 2020, the sites have diverted millions of organic waste from landfills and produced thousands of cubic yards of compost. The first round of CalRecycle funding just ended in January, and organizations have submitted applications for a second round.
Of the two afternoon composting site tours, I opted for the one that included Temple Beth Israel in Pomona, Claremont Friends Meeting, and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation in San Dimas. Temple Beth Israel was the newest composting site we visited. There are an impressive number of raised beds on the property (around 20 from what I remember), where onions, herbs, greens, and other vegetables are grown in partnership with Uncommon Good. Ten small businesses provide food waste for composting next to the planting beds.
Have you enjoyed reading this blog? Do you have questions? Need help with school gardens or environmental education? Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.
In April, I attended the Growing School Gardens Summit in Denver, Colorado, thanks to support from UCCE San Bernardino. The conference was promoted as “a gathering to inform, inspire, and invigorate the school garden movement” and was hosted by the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation in partnership with LifeLab and the School Garden Support Organization (SGSO) Network. It was so exciting to meet school garden educators and influencers from across the country and return home with a suitcase full of seeds, handouts, business cards, and healthy snacks to motivate me for months to come! In this blog, I want to share my most memorable moments from the conference and give you an update on the Upland High School waste audit.
Growing Garden Leaders
Monthly webinar topics included planting with students, culinary connections, garden maintenance, seed saving, and composting. To keep trainees engaged remotely, a variety of tools and techniques were used: guest speakers, school and teacher spotlights, live demonstrations, breakout rooms, interactive group platforms, activity kits, Q&A sessions, and a social media group. I'm always looking for more tools to add to my environmental education toolbox! In addition, this type of “train the trainer” framework could be useful for our Master Gardener School Garden Committee.
Providing Effective Support to School Gardens
The “Growing Garden Leaders” workshop dovetailed nicely with another workshop held on the last day of the conference. “Providing Effective Support to School Gardens in Your Region” showed how to increase the impact and effectiveness of garden-based activities with limited capacity. Presented by the United States Botanic Garden and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (both in Washington, D.C.), the session introduced the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework. This approach advocates building a strong foundation of “tier 1” activities that are available to everyone and disseminated widely. About 80 percent of those served will get what they need from tier 1. Two examples are a school garden guide and a monthly newsletter. The remaining 20 percent will need more support from tiers 2 and 3 such as group training or a site evaluation. This concept resonated with me because our School Garden Committee just finished adding school garden resources to the Master Gardener website, a tier 1 activity. Now we have a place to refer those who contact us for help.
Edible Schoolyard New Orleans
Staff from Edible Schoolyard New Orleans gave two excellent short talks. Sasha Solano-McDaniel discussed how a Spanish cooking club enabled language acquisition in the kitchen classroom. Both English language learners and native English speakers benefitted from sharing their cultures and building community. Brian Tome outlined how he created a resilient, undemanding, and educational garden at the Phillis Wheatley Community School. He accomplished this by planting cover crops and perennials and creating a food forest using plants common in the tropics and subtropics such as taro, ginger, turmeric, papaya, and lemongrass.
Food Forests for Schools
My favorite presentation of the conference was “Food Forests for Schools” presented by The Education Fund, a non-profit organization that provides leadership and support for public education in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Food forests are multi-layered food growing systems consisting of trees, bushes, herbs, vines, and ground covers. In Miami-Dade County, 26 of the 51 elementary schools have perennial, edible landscapes that provide food for students to take home and eat in the cafeteria.
Through the Edible Outdoor Eco-Labs to Accelerate Learning program, The Education Fund installs food forests and shows schools how to use them as outdoor classrooms to teach science and nutrition lessons. The main design elements of the food forest are a defined entrance, walking paths, an outdoor classroom, and a compost circle surrounded by banana trees. I would love to see this type of design used in more school gardens in Southern California. Many tropical plants that grow in South Florida can also grow here at lower elevations.
Building a Sustainable School Garden Program
In “Building and Institutionalizing a Sustainable School Program”, Dan Brown, a junior/senior high school teacher in rural Northern California, described how he and his students started with an existing greenhouse to build a garden program that now sells about 2000 pounds of organic produce each year. In 2007, he began applying for grants and used the Ag Mechanics shop to build raised beds, cold frames, shade frames, and high tunnels. Over the years, the garden program has sold many types of plants and produce, saved seeds, and run a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) project.
Green Bronx Machine
Green Bronx Machine started as an after-school, alternative program for high school students and has evolved into an organization that serves more than 50,000 students with an interdisciplinary, project-based curriculum. Green Bronx Machine also supports the Food for Others Garden on a decommissioned city street in the Bronx, a wheelchair-accessible urban farm and culinary training kitchen for special needs students, and an outdoor Learning Garden at Community School 55 among many other projects and partnerships. Truly amazing!
Upland High School Waste Audit Update
As a follow-up to the waste audit, the UUSD Nutrition Services Department is evaluating ways to collect and recycle food waste, increase education on school meal requirements, provide share buckets for unwanted items, switch to bulk condiments and sauces, and make more sustainable purchasing choices. Changes such as these will help UUSD meet the Senate Bill 1383 requirements for organic waste reduction and edible food recovery.
Have you enjoyed reading this blog? Do you have questions or need information on environmental topics? If so, send an email to email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
Ever since Senate Bill 1383 took effect earlier this year, local governments and organizations across California have been scrambling to develop strategies to recycle organic waste. Schools are no exception. As I discussed in my February blog, SB 1383 requires our state to reduce organic waste disposal by 75% and increase edible food recovery by 20% by 2025 (relative to 2014 levels). California schools and universities generate over 560,000 tons of waste per year according to CalRecycle. While implementing programs to reduce and recycle waste, schools are in a unique position to teach youth about a wide variety of environmental topics including resource conservation, composting, and food rescue.
A good way for schools to start developing a waste handling strategy is to conduct a waste audit. The main goal is to characterize the type, quantity, and source of materials being discarded. An audit is often part of a more comprehensive assessment to evaluate school district policies and procedures that affect waste generation. In 2014, CalRecycle performed a waste characterization study using 45 samples from K-12 schools. The study showed that the largest components of the waste stream were organics (50.8%), paper (31.4%), and plastic (12.7%). The organics category included food, plant material, and some textiles.
I recently helped Cassidy Furnari, the Upland School District Farm to School Program Manager, conduct a lunchtime cafeteria waste audit at Upland High School. The Farm to School Program is part of the Nutrition Services Department, which is concerned about food waste and cost. Cassidy and I recruited members of the school garden club, GRO (Grow Recycle Organize), to participate in the audit to empower them to promote change on campus. The students are currently preparing to present their results at an upcoming Board of Education meeting.
The first step we took in planning our waste audit was to write a brief project plan. To keep the project manageable, we decided to perform an audit during a typical 30-minute lunch period. Upland High School has over 3000 students who all eat at the same time. Only seniors are allowed to leave campus during lunch.
To avoid influencing student behavior, we didn't make any major changes to the meal service or trash disposal. Rather than asking students to sort their own waste, we placed distinctive purple liners inside existing trash containers shortly before the lunch period. The week before the audit we counted over 90 trash containers in the areas where students eat lunch.
During the planning process, we informed and consulted with the school administration, cafeteria staff, custodial staff, and parents of the garden club members. We also asked for help from our friends at the Community Composting for Green Spaces Grant Program to tap into their experience with waste audits.
To design our data collection sheets, we considered what questions we wanted to answer. What is the total weight of the waste? How much of the waste is food, paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass? How much can be composted or recycled? How much uneaten cafeteria food can be recovered? By answering these questions and others, we can help the Nutrition Services Department make more sustainable and economical food purchasing and packaging decisions.
After a month of planning, the big day of the waste audit finally arrived on March 9th. Our team consisted of nine people from Upland Farm to School and Community Composting for Green Spaces. Our first tasks were placing purple bags in the trash receptacles and setting up a staging area to sort the waste. Before we knew it, the lunch period had come and gone, and the hard work of collecting the bags and sorting the waste began. Sorting was much messier and more tedious than I had expected, especially since we had over 30 waste categories. The garden club members joined us after school to help count, weigh, and record the items in different waste categories. We eventually finished tallying the results and cleaning up six hours after we started. It was a long day!
What did we learn from our waste audit? Although we're still analyzing the results, we've already answered our initial questions. The total waste generated in a single lunch period was 370 lbs. The two largest types of waste material by weight were food (63%) and paper (19%), and more than 80% of the waste was compostable or recyclable. Students threw away over 200 pieces of uneaten whole fruit and 40 unopened cartons of milk, which potentially could have been recovered. Every question we answer gives rise to new questions and new ways to examine the data. We're already thinking about performing a waste audit at an elementary school to see how the waste profile compares.
I hope this story inspires you to support waste reduction, recycling, and recovery efforts in your local schools. Stay tuned for an update on my journey into school waste auditing in a future blog!
 CalRecycle. School Waste Reduction Programs. https://calrecycle.ca.gov/recycle/schools
 CalRecycle. School Waste Composition. https://calrecycle.ca.gov/recycle/schools/composition