Louise Rodgers and Georgina Valk cup a handful of freshly sifted, nutrient-rich compost. The duo met about 10 years ago while their kids were in kindergarten. They saw a need for composting in Tofino so they founded Tofino Urban Farm Co. (Nora O’Malley photo)

Tofino moms turn mounds of organic waste into “Black Gold”

Curbside residential and commercial compost pickup to begin in 2022 for West Coasters

  • Jun. 13, 2021 12:00 a.m.

Louise Rodgers and Georgina Valk, founders of Tofino Urban Farm Co., are selling buckets of “black gold”.

Locals can score a five-gallon bucket of mulch compost for $5, and for $10, gardeners get a five-gallon bucket of the finely sifted compost. Made from a mix of food scraps and wood chips, their recipe for soil booster is simple, sustainable, and best of all, has the potential to significantly expand the lifespan of the West Coast Landfill.

“It’s going to be skookum. Change is coming,” said Valk during a tour of the organic waste mixing bay facility at the West Coast Landfill.

Since they took on the Composting Pilot Program contracted by the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District in February 2020, Tofino Urban Farm Co. has diverted about 67 tonnes of organic waste from the landfill. The pilot program involved collecting food scraps from Shelter, Shed, Long Beach Lodge, Gaia, Rhino Coffee and 10 other businesses/offices, plus 40 households.

Shelter Restaurant’s GM Matty Kane said their landfill waste has been reduced by nearly 85 per cent, and that number only continues to grow as they source more sustainable products and packaging solutions.

“We admire their passion for the environment, and their ongoing commitment to reducing waste on the coast. It’s a hard job, and the results take years to come to fruition. Our values are very aligned with theirs, and we hope to continue to build a lasting relationship with Tofino Urban Farm,” he said.

Valk and Rodgers stand on a pile of curing compost at the West Coast Landfill.

Come September 2022, Rodgers says Tofino Urban Farm Co. will have the capacity and infrastructure in place to collect all the commercial organic waste on the West Coast. A weekly curbside organics collection for residents is slated to start September 2022 as well.

With the help of West Coast Landfill manager Tony Konefall, food scraps collected by Rodgers and Valk are mixed with wood chips and after six weeks of breakdown, the pile is moved and spends two more months curing.

To speed the process up, the earthy entrepreneurs installed a static aerated system of perforated pipes with blowers under each pile of the mixing bay.

“Every 30 minutes air blows to break down the pile. Then the worms come in and finish it,” explains Rodgers. For the final stage and to produce that finely sifted product, a heavy-duty screening machine is used to sift any remaining foreign objects out of the compost.

“Those clear “compostable” plastic cups only break down after 83 days in an industrial compost facility. The worst thing is they go into the dump and don’t even get recycled,” Rodgers said, adding that Tofino Urban Farm Co. has teamed up with Surfrider Pacific Rim to find acceptably compostable alternatives for businesses.

The West Coast Landfill is projected to reach capacity in 2079, according to a 2018 West Coast Landfill Operations and Monitoring report. Konefall says about 40 per cent of the waste that is currently going into the landfill could be composted.

“Even if we divert 50 per cent of that, well, that alone will lengthen the lifespan by quite a bit,” he said.

Valk says composting is rewarding in so many ways. In the landfill, organic waste is buried under layers of other waste and without access to oxygen, it cannot decompose properly and creates methane. Composting done well will not only reduce local green house gas emissions, but it will also help locals grow their own food.

The Composting Pilot Program is currently full, but Tofino Urban Farm Co. has started a waitlist for commercial compost pickup services. Anyone interested in getting on the list or purchasing buckets of “black gold” for their own gardens can email: tofinourbanfarmco@gmail.com.

READ: Food Waste + Composting = Black Gold

nora.omalley@westerlynews.caLike us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

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