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Cleveland Clinic launches composting project

Marc Lefkowitz  |  07/13/09 @ 2:14pm

Composting food waste is the next frontier in recycling, and one of the area's largest institutions is piloting a composting program to lead the way.

AVI Foodservice kitchens in Cleveland Clinic's Main Campus started composting in June, transporting food scraps to Cleveland Botanical Garden youth garden sites (pictured). The pilot project is in the Cleveland Clinic's Main Campus cafeteria and at several retail food service locations. The Cleveland Botanical Garden (CBG) provided AVI chefs with 10-gallon buckets, which the kitchen crews fill with fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds.

AVI Foodservice District Manager Nathan Cristino estimates that about 12 to 15 full buckets are produced every two days. That is equivalent to nearly 1,000 pounds in one week. The early success will help potentially spread the program to other Cleveland Clinic kitchens. CBG composts the materials and incorporates the finished compost into their five Green Corps urban gardens.

"In addition to getting food waste from the Clinic, we're also taking it from the West Side Market, Great Lakes Brewing and Case," says CGB staffer Bob Shields. "It goes right onto the 'lasagna' beds at the Dunham Tavern site. With lasagna mulching, you don't even need a composter." Lasagna mulching is a simple technique layering food scraps between layers of leaves or cardboard, all of which breaks down in four to six months to produce a nutrient-rich soil.

CBG Green Corps empowers local inner city youth through summer gardening jobs and education about healthy eating. CBG employees brought Green Corps students to explain composting and the program's connection to Green Corp's mission.

"They realized there is a social and scientific connection to [composting] and it helped them 'get' it," said AVI catering manager Timothy DelPapa.

Green Corps students presented AVI employees with jars of their City Fresh salsa, made from produce grown in their gardens. This helped the chefs understand that their food scraps had a tangible impact. The relationship helped motivate AVI employees.

"When they heard it would serve inner city youth, they were excited," said Cristino about his employees' reactions. "We had those buckets in on Monday and they were filled by Tuesday," added DelPapa.

Composting removes food waste from our landfills and helps close the loop on Cleveland Clinic's local food programs by returning food to our soil. Composting also minimizes the need for artificial chemical fertilizers and the energy associated in their production.

Specifically, the food waste from the Clinic builds the soil in the gardens in Fairfax, Slavic Village and Clark-Metro, hard-hit areas where Cleveland kids are cultivating food for their neighbors. "This year, we're focusing on food for specific neighborhoods, like cilantro and coriander to make sofrito on the Near West Side," Shields says, "and selling it directly there (through CityFresh farmer's markets)."

Food composting is about to take off, predicts Beau Daane of the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District. Cuyahoga County residents, businesses, and industries generate approximately 400,312 tons of food waste every year, while recycling only 2,636 tons of that in 2008.

Daane, Peter McDermott at E4S and others worked with the West Side Market to pilot a food waste composting project for the produce vendors. Tubs will be installed for them to use this fall. The city-owned Rockefeller Greenhouse will accept the partially cured compost, continue the curing process, and ultimately use the finished compost at the greenhouse for soil enrichment.

The next opportunity is to connect smaller businesses to local resources like the CBG. For example, while perusing the menu at Bar Cento in Ohio City recently, we noticed two things: the long list of local farmers from whom meats, dairy and veggies are purchased. And the environmental statement which includes recycling and food waste composting programs.

On a related note, the new documentary film, "Food, Inc." screens tonight at the Cedar-Lee Theatre followed by a panel discussion with local local foods experts.

Image gallery of the Cleveland Botanical Gardens Green Corps Learning Garden and other Cleveland urban agriculture sites.

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