Grow Compost in Moretown. Photo: Rachel Goff

"We kind of all grew up thinking of apple cores and whatever's left on our plate as waste," said Lisa Ransom, co-owner of Grow Compost of Vermont, when really it could feed animals or be reincorporated back into the soil to grow more food.

As Act 250, the Universal Recycling Law, which requires that all organic material be diverted from the waste stream by 2020, is phased in over the next few years, companies like Grow Compost in Moretown have been working with their communities to reshape how they think about food and waste.

Ransom started Grow Compost with her husband Scott Baughman in 2009. The couple had lived on their 40-acre Route 2 property for 18 years, where they maintained a small homesteading operation. "We had a farm and we needed compost and we had this field ... so we thought, why don't we just make our own?" Ransom said, and the business was born.

Now, Grow Compost has eight employees and sells its organic fertilizer all over the state. The company has a self-serve farm stand and organics bar, residential food scraps drop-off bins, sheep, chickens, ducks and pigs and is currently constructing two hoop houses in which it will grow and sell food that was grown in the material it makes on site.

Grow Compost in Moretown. Photo: Rachel Goff
Grow Compost in Moretown. Photo: Rachel Goff

Last year, Grow Compost launched a commercial hauling service for large food waste generators, picking up food scraps from restaurants and businesses in The Valley, all the way up to Stowe and all the way down to Randolph. But that's not the only way their business has adjusted to Act 250.

One of the most important things about the Universal Recycling Law, Ransom said, is its "hierarchy of food recovery," in which leftovers are first reduced at its source, then fed to humans, then fed to animals and then—only if they are unsuitable for any of the aforementioned—are broken down to be used as fertilizer

According to Ransom, Grow Compost has adapted this hierarchy as "a revised business model," she said, "because really it's all about feeding people and feeding people healthy food." Now, in addition to picking up food scraps to break down into organic fertilizer, Grow Compost has special trucks that can also pick up edible leftovers and bring them to local food shelves.

Before Grow Compost started offering this service, organizations like the Vermont Foodbank already had food rescue programs, "but we're just trying to make it easier for them because we're already there with our trucks," Ransom said.

As far as a residential hauling service, "I don't really know if you could make it work," Ransom said of Vermont. "Maybe in the cities," she said, but it would cost Grow Compost a lot in time and money to be able to pick up food scraps at houses in rural areas.

Per the Universal Recycling Law, all household food scraps must be diverted from the landfill by 2020, however, and they have to go somewhere. According to the law, all transfer stations that accept trash must also accept organic material, but "they're going to have to figure out a place to bring it, because we will not take anything with contamination," she said, speaking for her Route 2 facility.

Grow Compost prides itself in producing a "really high-quality product," Ransom said, that would not be possible if trash like fruit stickers found their way into the compost.

Right now, Grow Compost provides bins in which residents can drop off their food scraps, and the company has had no problem with contamination. But that wouldn't necessarily be true of a compost bin at a transfer station, Ransom said. "Our system works because people come here and they see the garden," she said, "and they see how concerned they are about quality."

Grow Compost doesn't make any money from the residential drop-off bins. "It's not a business for us," Ransom said, compared to the commercial hauling. "It's really about raising awareness." Moving forward, "I see the Universal Recycling Law as an opportunity, more than anything else," she said, "but it will rely on social change and will take some time."