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Baltimore Plans to Expand Composting Citywide

The Filbert Street Garden sits just inside the city line in south Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood. Among the ducks and chickens that call the garden home, there are flower beds, a greenhouse, bee hives, and—tucked away in the far back corner—the composting bins.

“This is the garden of Eden in Brooklyn and Curtis Bay, one of the biggest kept secrets,” says Marvin Hayes, the garden’s manager.

Haye’s assistant, Anthony Walton, 19 of Brooklyn, explains where they get the materials for composting.

“Curtis Bay, Locust Point, the riverside areas, and then we take it back here to our wonderful, beautiful garden,” says Walton as he pushes a wheel barrow full of tools.

Once a week for $25 a month about 30 customers have their orange peels, coffee grounds, and egg shells hauled away by Baltimore Compost Collective, a 2-year-old non-profit with financial support from Baltimore’s United Workers, an advocacy group, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, an environmental non-profit based in Washington, DC.

“You’re about to see the process right now,” says Walton.

Today Hayes has a bag of banana peels, and strawberry stems from a juice bar in Federal Hill.

“Normally I’ll pick up four 20 gallon containers from them on a weekly basis,” says Hayes.

Hayes says it’s a recipe. One part biodegradable material to two parts manure from the ducks and chickens. Then chop, add wood chips, and stir.

“Once this process is done it goes into bin one,” says Hayes.

Along the sides of the concrete platform where the compost process started are two large wooden containers with three separate bins each at different stages of the composting process. After four months the soil is ready for the garden.

Hayes says this is just the start of the business.

“We want to be the small scale operation that turns into a large scale,” says Hayes. “Our goal is hopefully for the mayor to make composting a part of recycling.”

This is just a small-scale example of what could be done under a five-year plan Pugh announced earlier this month to reduce food waste and contaminated soil by as much as 95 percent through citywide composting.

At least 16 urban farms have cropped up around the city, according to Farm Alliance Baltimore, but those urban farmers have a problem. The city’s soil is contaminated with lead and other heavy metals from years of run-off and other forms of pollution.

As part of this plan, Anne Draddy, sustainability coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, says they would like to open a food composting facility through a public-private partnership in the next two year that would dwarf the one in Brooklyn

“The product of food composting is often called ‘black gold’,” says Draddy. “I mean it is a very valuable product.”

Draddy says not only could composting generate revenue and jobs for the city, but "since our growing urban agriculture population needs to bring in soil because our soil has lead and other things, if we have a facility in the city that might be a way we can get rich composted soil to our urban farmers."

For Fiscal Year 2019, Pugh budgeted $718,000 for the office of sustainability, but hopes to get money for the composting plan through donations from a public-private partnership with a local corporation that hasn’t been named yet.

For now Baltimore Compost Collective’s small scale operation will have to wait to see if the city is financially ready for them.