All Local, All The Time

Farm composting in Boulder County

On Feb. 16, the Boulder County Community Planning & Permitting staff held a zoom meeting to discuss composting solutions for local farmers. The meeting was led by Sustainable Agriculture Planner Sabrina Torres and Long Range Planner Andrea Vaughn.

"Compost helps reduce waste and mitigate climate vulnerabilities," said Torres. "It's really rather than sending food and yard scraps to a landfill, composting upcycles these resources into an environmentally beneficial product and these materials would otherwise break down in landfills and admit methane into the atmosphere. In turn, this becomes a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S."

The Boulder County Commissioners have made some recent updates to the Land Use Code, to further sustainability goals among regenerative farming practices, specifically, through small-scale, decentralized composting operations on farms located in unincorporated Boulder County.

The Boulder County website states, "Currently, the Land Use Code allows composting incidental to farming on farms up to a 1,000 cubic yard limit. However, the Code prohibits the collection of composting material from the general public and doesn't allow retail sales of finished compost products on site.

"Agricultural community members and local partners pursuing regenerative farming practices have expressed how these provisions act as barriers to local circular economic approaches. For example, farmers incur high costs to import necessary materials from outside of the County to make finished compost products."

Vaughn said, "To update our Land Use Code, we have identified three goals. The first goal is to reduce barriers for local producers who would like to take part in the regenerative planning practices, particularly composting, which is an accessible tool that helps establish healthier soils and builds an overall healthier ecosystem and agriculture on our agricultural lands. Goal two is to close the loop on the circular economy for agricultural producers, who may have the interest in providing the community access to composting materials. The third goal is to develop the code language about what is and what is not allowed."

"The Front Range is currently facing a compost crisis, as large scale industrial composters, such as AONE Organics, come to terms with their contaminated waste streams," said Vann Fussel, founder and director of Compost Colorado (CoCo). "This broken linear model does not serve the purpose of resource management which should ensure that nutrients and organic matter circulate back to our soil and community.

Dan Mage from Eco-Cycle and other experts have been advocating for a more decentralized distributed organics management solution for many years. "It is clear that community scale, farmbased, and distributed compost processing is the most effective way to holistically manage organic resources and results in soil revitalization, carbon sequestration, and higher yields for local farmers," Mage said. "Our small compost company collects over 2000 households and businesses, which ends up being 15 cubic yards of clean, non-contaminated compostable waste every day. And we're developing a methodology whereby we set up micro-processing sites at a network of farms to effectively complete the loop."

"On my family's land, we've got about 24 acres that's mainly been in hay production since my grandfather, Jack, bought the land in 1972," said Byron Kominek, owner of Jack's Solar Garden. "We've had to make changes to be able to make ends meet, because our soils have been degraded for a long time. And so we have solar panels on our farm, where we're able to produce more energy, but we constantly buy compost from other places, because our land doesn't produce enough compost for us to be able to grow vegetables. It would make more sense for me to be able to import some compost from my neighbors and from restaurants and from other folks in the area, if that could be arranged."

Following the meeting, Boulder County Community Planning & Permitting requested community participation in an online questionnaire for a potential update for composting incidental to farming operations. The county website states, "This potential Land Use Code update is intended to further the county's goals related to sustainability and climate goals, regenerative farming initiatives, and the development of a local circular economy. This update would allow agricultural producers to source composting material from the public, which could then be composted on the farm. The finished compost would be used on-site for farming operations or sold as part of allowed Accessory Agricultural Sales. This project is still in the conceptual phase and a formal public comment period is not yet open."

For more information about composting, email [email protected].


Reader Comments(0)