While Maria Wells of Prince William County made her first flower garden as a young girl out of an old, repurposed dresser drawer, she only rediscovered this hobby in 2017. “One day, I just wanted to see if I could grow something. I grabbed a whole bunch of kale, and because my family wouldn’t eat any of it—they didn’t think I knew what I was doing—I ended up eating lots of kale myself.”
Her friend recommended that she try using some compost in her garden and, shortly thereafter, she found herself at a local Compost Awareness event. “Something just clicked. I have always been a person to repurpose things so when I first heard about composting, it just made sense to me. Here’s a way that I can recycle, have a better garden, and contribute to a healthier environment.”
It’s stories like Maria’s that bring this year’s International Compost Awareness Week theme to life: “Grow, Eat...COMPOST...Repeat.” Composting is a circular process that takes leftover food and turns it into a compost, which can then be used in soil to grow even better fruits, vegetables and plants. While Maria does this whole loop herself, individuals are able to contribute to any portion of the process and, by doing so, help their local community be more sustainable.
The average American wastes almost one pound of food each day, according to one 2018 U.S. Food and Drug Association study. When placed in a landfill, food and yard waste not only takes up valuable space but it contributes to the release of methane, a greenhouse gas that is at least 25x more powerful than carbon dioxide. Composting this food and yard waste prevents these greenhouse gas emissions and also returns their nutrients to the soil.
Excitingly, there are a number of ways that individuals can recycle their food scraps and yard waste. “I started composting with an above ground bin that I bought from the county but, today, I also compost using a tumbler, an in-ground crab bucket, and a worm farm--this is in my kitchen and is my favorite. I even make a leaf compost in black trash bags. It’s compost 5 ways!”
There are also an increasing number of companies in the area that will compost food scraps. Companies like Apex Organix and Compost Crew will collect your weekly food scraps for ~$15-30 per month, and many towns are offering drop-off locations. Prince William County residents can bring their food and yard waste to the compost facility on Balls Ford Road in Manassas for free.
All of these options will lead to the food being recycled and turned into a nutrient-rich compost. When used in your soil, compost provides organic matter and microorganisms that produce immediate and long-term soil health. And, as plants pull carbon dioxide out of the air, compost will store the carbon in the soil and help to slow global warming.
To help celebrate this year’s Compost Awareness Day, Prince William County Solid Waste Division, Freestate Farms and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Prince William Master Gardeners will host a socially distant event on May 8 from 10am to 1pm (masks required). Volunteers from the Master Gardeners will share materials on how and why to use compost as well as how to compost at home. Freestate Farms will provide a free compost sample in your own bucket. Compost bins and buckets will also be available for purchase.
Today, Maria continues her passion for gardening and is in the final stages of completing her Master Gardener’s course work. The Master Gardener program provides intensive horticultural training to individuals who then volunteer in the local community.
“I use compost in my vegetable garden, on my flower beds, and around my berry bushes,” said Maria. “I get much larger flowers than before and more frequent blooming, and my veggies are more vibrant in color and taste. I also save money now too because I am making enough compost that I don’t have to buy any. I win, the environment wins, we all win!”