Edible Marin and Wine Country Spring 2012 : Page 44

A WHOLE NEW COMPOST BY KIRSTEN JONES NEFF am standing on a ridge above the Napa Valley, soaking up a million-dollar view. Perched halfway up the eastern hills, above the Silverado Trail and Calistoga, I am surrounded by rows of prime vineyards and gorgeous wine estates, gazing south over the valley floor, St. Helena, Yountville and Napa. On this clear day, Mt. Diablo looks as if I could reach out and touch it. And … I am at the dump. Clover Flat Landfill is the tidiest and most beautiful dump I have ever seen. I am up here visiting with Christy Abreu, the public education director for Upper Valley Disposal Service (UVDS). Abreu’s family has run the disposal service for almost five decades, and she has made a career out of facing the environmental challenges of our time head on. Her college thesis project was to set up a campus-wide recycling program for the entire St. Mary’s College in Moraga, and in 1990 she came back to the family business to spearhead public edu-cation and outreach about the necessity and successes of UVDS’s environmentally sustainable practices and programs. Calistoga, served by UVDS, was the first city in Napa County to adopt curbside recycling in 1989. In 2009 they expanded to single-stream recycling (meaning that all recyclables may be co-mingled in one container for collection by UVDS) and large-scale recycling at the landfill. More recently they have moved into food composting. The goal is to stay ahead of the curve in response to Califor-nia Assembly Bill 32, an aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction guide requiring 75% recycling in all California counties by the year 2020. Abreu and her family are on the fast track to get the upper Napa Valley to zero-waste, and they are making significant progress. The region is now at 82% diversion, meaning that 82% of waste is diverted and recycled so it doesn’t sit in the landfill. 44 | EDIBLE MARIN & WINE COUNTRY SPRING 2012 I Abreu’s family, the Pestonis, have been in the Napa Valley since 1886. Her parents started the UVDS in the early ’60s on a family farm. When they purchased the hillside property for landfill, she and her siblings were young. They looked forward to the week-ends when they could wind up Clover Flat road with their father to spend the day working with him and scavenging. “That was my favorite thing to do as a kid,” Abreu says. “Mom would pack us a lunch, and we would spend the day out there.” The family’s conservation ethos was prevalent even on these excursion days. “Each time we went we were allowed to bring one thing home. But we also had to bring one thing back.” According to Abreu, despite population growth, the amount of material that goes into the landfill has shrunk consider-ably since she was a girl. Technological innovation and recycling programs like the ones she promotes in the Napa Valley mean that, today, the pile of waste that cannot be recycled is relatively small. Looking down at Clover Flat Landfill from the ridge 200 feet above the main receiving area, I am reminded of a small world my toddler son set up with blocks, Playmobil characters and tiny Tonka trucks. That, morphed with a scene from Star Wars . “We are converting the landfill to an energy park,” Abreu tells me. Indeed, the entire outfit appears quite orderly and effi-cient, with employees sorting through sculptural mounds of debris and industrial-strength trucks making their way between well-contained piles. Long pipes emerge from deep within the landfill, feeding methane gas into visibly flaring wells, where it will soon be converted to energy. The largest area is demar-cated by a colorful collection of flags representing each of the 50 states. This is the construction and demolition area, which is where the critical sorting step takes place, pulling anything that can be recycled from the waste stream. Heavy metals are Photo: Courtesy of Upper Valley Disposal Service

A Whole New Compost

By Kirsten Jones Neff

I am standing on a ridge above the Napa Valley, soaking up a million-dollar view. Perched halfway up the eastern hills, above the Silverado Trail and Calistoga, I am surrounded by rows of prime vineyards and gorgeous wine estates, gazing south over the valley floor, St. Helena, Yountville and Napa. On this clear day, Mt. Diablo looks as if I could reach out and touch it. And … I am at the dump.

Clover Flat Landfill is the tidiest and most beautiful dump I have ever seen. I am up here visiting with Christy Abreu, the public education director for Upper Valley Disposal Service (UVDS). Abreu's family has run the disposal service for almost five decades, and she has made a career out of facing the environmental challenges of our time head on. Her college thesis project was to set up a campus-wide recycling program for the entire St. Mary's College in Moraga, and in 1990 she came back to the family business to spearhead public education and outreach about the necessity and successes of UVDS's environmentally sustainable practices and programs.

Calistoga, served by UVDS, was the first city in Napa County to adopt curbside recycling in 1989. In 2009 they expanded to single-stream recycling (meaning that all recyclables may be co-mingled in one container for collection by UVDS) and large-scale recycling at the landfill. More recently they have moved into food composting.

The goal is to stay ahead of the curve in response to California Assembly Bill 32, an aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction guide requiring 75% recycling in all California counties by the year 2020. Abreu and her family are on the fast track to get the upper Napa Valley to zero-waste, and they are making significant progress. The region is now at 82% diversion, meaning that 82% of waste is diverted and recycled so it doesn't sit in the landfill.

Abreu's family, the Pestonis, have been in the Napa Valley since 1886. Her parents started the UVDS in the early '60s on a family farm. When they purchased the hillside property for landfill, she and her siblings were young. They looked forward to the weekends when they could wind up Clover Flat road with their father to spend the day working with him and scavenging.

"That was my favorite thing to do as a kid," Abreu says. "Mom would pack us a lunch, and we would spend the day out there." The family's conservation ethos was prevalent even on these excursion days. "Each time we went we were allowed to bring one thing home. But we also had to bring one thing back."

According to Abreu, despite population growth, the amount of material that goes into the landfill has shrunk considerably since she was a girl. Technological innovation and recycling programs like the ones she promotes in the Napa Valley mean that, today, the pile of waste that cannot be recycled is relatively small. Looking down at Clover Flat Landfill from the ridge 200 feet above the main receiving area, I am reminded of a small world my toddler son set up with blocks, Playmobil characters and tiny Tonka trucks. That, morphed with a scene from Star Wars.

"We are converting the landfill to an energy park," Abreu tells me. Indeed, the entire outfit appears quite orderly and efficient, with employees sorting through sculptural mounds of debris and industrial-strength trucks making their way between well-contained piles. Long pipes emerge from deep within the landfill, feeding methane gas into visibly flaring wells, where it will soon be converted to energy. The largest area is demarcated by a colorful collection of flags representing each of the 50 states. This is the construction and demolition area, which is where the critical sorting step takes place, pulling anything that can be recycled from the waste stream. Heavy metals are carted off to Oakland for meltdown and re-use. The wood biomass ends up at a plant where it will be converted to energy. The food waste–and there appears to be a lot of it–ends up in one of a row of large heat-able bins with hoses snaking into their centers. These are the aerating hoses. Thanks to this newfangled process, the UVSD's food composting program can turn food waste from the Valley's plentiful restaurants into rich and nourishing garden amendment in just 28 days.

This breakthrough food-composting program is Abreu's baby, and is a shining star in a constellation of improvements. Here is how it works: Three days a week UVSD picks up food waste from local restaurants, catering companies and institutions. That bulk–which includes all food waste, even meat, bones and shells–goes into trucks that have been sealed to prevent leakage. It is then trucked to a UVDS location on Whitehall Lane on the valley floor and dumped onto a concrete pad. Next, it is put into large boxes and mixed with 30% mulch ("Mulch" is natural material, high in carbon and nitrogen, that has been chipped or ground up and left to sit and steam, but has not yet met the time and temperature requirements to be deemed "compost."). Then the mixture, still in the boxes, is transported up to UVDS' Clover Flat location, where it is heated up to 160° and aerated for three minutes every 20 minutes, thanks to hoses on an electrical timer. After the heat, air and micro-organisms, which are naturally occuring in the food compost and vineyard pomace, have done their magician's dance to transform this waste product into something resembling soil, the mixture is fed through a grinder, to further decompose larger pieces such as bones and shells. Then it heads back down to the valley floor site where it is marketed to vintners, farmers, organic vegetable producers and landscape professionals, including the Department of Transportation. UVDS also donates organic blends of compost to schools and nonprofits for use in their gardens and farm-to-table programs.

When Abreu shows me the mountains of dark brown compost on the site down in the valley, it is the smell that is most notable. It smells like loam, that wonderful earthy smell. And also like grapes. Grape pomace (skin, pulp, seeds and stems) is a huge resource in the composting process, says Abreu. The ideal result of this disposal system serving vineyards and restaurants is that the compost and mulch end up back in the vineyards, restaurant gardens and landscaping to complete a perfect local cycle.

"If we can do it, anyone can do it," says Cindy Pawlcyn, the owner/chef of Mustards Grill, Brassica and Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen. Pawlcyn was the first restaurateur in the area to embrace the food composting process back in 2009. She estimates it took about two weeks to set up her kitchens with three types of bins and train the staff to use them. "Some restaurants don't want to do it, because it takes some time, but it is just the right thing to do," says Pawlcyn in her lowkey, matter-of-fact way that makes everything seem not only do-able, but downright easy.

Pawlcyn's Minnesota family grew food in their backyard garden, so composting was a way of life. As one of the early proponents of farm-to-table cooking and environmental stewardship in the restaurant business, she was happy to get on board with Abreu and UVDS' program. Pawlcyn says they have reduced their landfill-bound garbage stream by 75%, and Abreu repeatedly credits Pawlcyn's enthusiasm for the success of the early phase of the program as she inspired others to sign on. Today, 30 restaurants participate in the food waste collection program. UVDS collects approximately 10 tons per day, three times per week. In other words, 30 tons of salvaged restaurant waste per week.

"Last year we grew 88 pounds of tomatoes," Pawlcyn boasts as we sit on the patio outside Mustards Grill, looking over her successful kitchen garden. No doubt the food waste from her restaurants' tables and the resulting UVSD compost have something to do with those numbers. In the restaurant business since she was a teenager, Pawlcyn witnessed first hand the inefficiency of prior restaurant systems for decades. "The UVDS program is a huge leap," sighs Pawlcyn, seeming relieved that things have finally changed. "And, really, it's just such common sense."

For information on how to participate in the UVDS food waste program, or advice on setting up a similar system in your area, contact Christy Abreu at christy@uvds.com or 707.963.7988.

Read the full article at http://onlinedigeditions.com/article/A+Whole+New+Compost/981250/100920/article.html.

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