2nd April 2023
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is allocating millions in funding to support community and municipal composting programs across the US.
The department is keen to spread the word to people setting up innovative composting projects around the USA, and recently reached out to Compost Magazine to help spread the word.
Tell me more! What is the scheme?
It’s a government scheme, so expect a mouthful here.
It’s called the The Compost and Food Waste Reduction Cooperative Agreement program (but don’t worry, you can just say CFWR!)
The scheme aims to create new jobs, help agriculture (especially in urban and tribal areas) and improve the access and availability of nutritious food.
It’s particularly aimed at areas which have been underfunded and underserved by other initiatives, such as tribal areas and deprived inner cities. However, it can also help rural areas which have poor soil.
I thought you said composting?
Sure, the scheme does other things (such as reducing water and food waste) but a major part of it is about encouraging composting – specifically community and municipal composting.
Why community composting?
There’s quite a bit to this, so let’s take a look at the benefits the USDA hopes to achieve.
- Addressing food deserts
Brian Guse, USDA’s Director of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production, told us about the desire to address the existence of food deserts in the USA.
(Food deserts are places where there is a lack of highly nutritious food.)
By encouraging urban agriculture, and improving soils in places with poor soil structure, Brian hopes the project will lead to more highly nutritious food being grown.
It’s also about creating a more circular economy, with food produced, cooked and turned back into compost all in the same area.
- Helping the environment
The scheme aims to divert more waste away from landfills.
Rotting food in landfills creates methane – a gas many times worse for the environment than the (mostly) carbon dioxide released from the composting process.
- Creating jobs
The USDA also hopes the scheme will create jobs.
This might not even directly be in the composting schemes. It could, for example, encourage more urban agriculture or food collection schemes which would create jobs.
- Social and mental benefits
There’s also other benefits too. Working together in a scheme can foster community spirit, while the greening of urban areas has serious health and mental benefits.
Above: USDA funded compost programs in action!
Great. Do you think my project would be eligible?
Maybe! The USDA isn’t actually distributing the money directly to projects. Instead, it all goes through local governments and other authorities (such as education boards or tribal governments).
The USDA then encourages those authorities to work with different groups. These can include community groups and public private partnerships.
Plus, certain areas are prioritised – these include areas which have poor soil, or have missed out on other grants or those which enable agriculture or improve poor soil.
Does it depend on the type of project you do?
Absolutely not. Brian emphasised that the USDA sponsors a really wide range of projects, and that the projects are often very different from one another. You can see examples of current projects below.
Whether or not I get funding, I want to start a community composting program. What do I need to know?
I asked Brian the same question! While admitting he wasn’t a technical expert, he did have this advice:
Does this really work? I want to hear some success stories!
Sure thing! Here’s a few…
One example of municipal composting successfully funded by the CCFWR program is found in Madison, WI, where the city has partnered with Neighborhood Food Solutions to tackle food waste head-on.
This collaboration has already collected a whopping 10,000 pounds of residents’ food waste at local farmers markets since 2021. The waste is then put to good use, supporting 15 new garden beds at the Neighborhood Food Solutions farm.
But the city’s efforts don’t stop there. Madison has also joined forces with local NGOs to educate area restaurants about food waste reduction and launched a food waste challenge.
The city has also engaged approximately 1,900 citizens directly with information, materials, and educational events highlighting the importance of composting and food waste reduction.
The USDA is working with an initiative in Boulder County, Colorado, to transform food systems and reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a new program connecting businesses and farmers.
Participating businesses pay a small fee into a fund that promotes regenerative agricultural practices, such as composting.
In return, these businesses can market low or negative carbon products to eco-conscious consumers. Local producers benefit from the funding and transform their operations into more climate-friendly solutions.
Last year, the Interior Alaska Food Waste Reduction and Education Initiative in Fairbanks received funding to support free backyard composting programs, distribute educational materials, and conduct workshops for composting novices.
These efforts included extensive outreach to students and adjacent indigenous tribal communities.
The results? A surge in understanding the importance of composting and a generous supply of fertile soil for small-scale gardens and farm operations.
Where can I learn more?