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Completing the Cycle

01/06/09 5:55PM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) At the completion of one yearly cycle and the beginning of another, commentator Ron Krupp is thinking about other natural cycles - and a recycling initiative in the Northeast Kingdom that uses food waste to nourish the soil for the production of more food.
 
(KRUPP) The town of Hardwick is going through some interesting stretching  exercises these days, and I'm not talking about yoga positions.  What I'm referring to are the increasing number of farm and food processor facilities dotting the hillsides in this Northeast Kingdom community.
 
Many new value-added farm products are being produced in Hardwick - including soy milk, cheese, and ice cream - using local ingredients.  Vermont Natural Coatings makes a commercial clear wood furniture finish from whey protein, a waste product of the cheesemaking process.
 
However, when most people think about waste, it's cow manure and kitchen scraps they have in mind. A Hardwick non-profit called the Highfields Institute is working with farmers, schools, restaurants and waste districts to convert food and animal waste into compost for use on farms and gardens.   
 
Highfields was conceived in 1999 by ex-dairy farmer Tod Delaricheliere. After successfully composting manure on his family's farm, Tod decided to provide assistance to other local farmers in composting their manure.
 
Tom Gilbert of Highfields estimates that 35 percent of the trash in the landfills in Vermont is made up of food scraps and organic waste such as leaves and grass clippings. Currently only 7 to 14 percent of the waste and food scraps are composted.  If all this waste were composted, it would provide enough nitrogen and other nutrients to enrich 19,000 acres of mixed vegetables - many more acres than are currently in use.
 
Highfields consults with farmers on compost management, provides lectures and workshops, sets up food waste collection programs, and serves many schools with composting education.
 
For example, they work with two schools in the Hardwick area that send their foodscraps a short distance to Highfields - producing 12 tons of compost each year. It's estimated that this saves 6,000 tons of carbon compounds from going up into the atmosphere - that's the equivalent of 7,000 gallons of gas not being burned in our cars. Highfields receives 3 tons of food waste a week from many other local businesses and schools. They also work with Lyndon State College; 1,500 students collect one ton of food scraps a week, which they compost on site.
 
Many organic and conventional farmers and gadeners use compost to feed the soil that produce the plants that provide the food we eat in our homes, schools, markets, and restaurants.  What Highfields is doing is completing the cycle from waste to food. And that's good news.
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