NTAE: Creating a Culture of Composting Feature Story

Through its “Creating a Culture of Composting in Greater Chicagoland” initiative, University of Illinois Extension is committed to making composting as second-nature as recycling has become in the communities it serves. This publication describes the multifaceted programming (such as Pumpkin Smashes and a composting summit) that the team has created to spread the word about composting among residents, businesses, and community leaders in the Chicago area. The publication is excerpted from the New Technologies for Ag Extension 2022-2023 Yearbook, which documents dozens of projects funded through the New Technologies for Ag Extension (NTAE) program. NTAE is a cooperative agreement between USDA NIFA, Oklahoma State University, and the Extension Foundation. The goal of the New Technologies for Ag Extension (NTAE) grant is to incubate, accelerate, and expand promising work that will increase the impact of the Cooperative Extension System (CES) in the communities it serves, and provide models that can be adopted or adapted by Extension teams across the nation.

Grant projects improve human, environmental, and community health.

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Welcome. “Creating a Composting Culture” is a publication of the New Technologies for Ag Extension (NTAE) program. This publication celebrates the accomplishments of a team at Extension professionals from University of Illinois Extension that received funding for this project in 2022-2023. NTAE is a grant program generously supported by the USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and administered through a partnership between Oklahoma State University and the Extension Foundation (EXF). The primary objective of NTAE is to provide financial assistance to competitively selected Extension programs that align with the strategic goal and priority program areas of the USDA and the Extension Com- mittee on Organization and Policy (ECOP). Through this support, NTAE helps teams catalyze, accelerate, and expand their work in their respective fields. Since its inception in 2019, the NTAE program has successfully funded and supported a total of 72 projects and leaders. This includes collaborations with all Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDCs) and ECOP Program Action Teams (PATs). Selected programs receive support for a period of one year. The project leader and their team are provided with invaluable mentoring from a team of catalysts, key infor- mants, and coaches from the EXF. This customized and innovative support model assists teams in exploring new possibilities, enhancing the intended impact of their projects, and sharing their work with a national audience. Additionally, each team receives additional resources and support to create materials and experiences that speed the development of their projects and bring about desired changes. The project showcased in this publication reflects the diversity and breadth of Extension disciplinary work and programming. In this publication, you will gain deeper insights into this exciting project, including the lessons learned, the project’s significance for Extension in a broader context, and what lies ahead for the team.

4 WAYS TO USE THIS PUBLICATION. 1. BE INSPIRED . Follow our model to create a com- posting culture in your community.

PUBLICATIONS

Editorial Staff Julie Halverson Dr. Rose Hayden-Smith Heather Martin Design & Production Dr. Rose Hayden-Smith Ellen P. Krugel Heather Martin

PROJECT TEAM

Kathryn M. Pereira Extension Educator, Project Team Leader, University of Illinois Extension Amy DeLorenzo ORISE Research Fellow, U.S. EPA Sue Gasper Extension Educator, University of Illinois Extension Sarah Farley Extension Educator, University of Illinois Extension Zach Samaras Technical Assistance Engineer, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center

© Extension Foundation Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommer- cial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). Published by Extension Foundation. Citations for this publication may be made using the following: Kansas City: Extension Foundation (2022). Creating a Composting Culture (1st ed). ISBN: 978-1-955687-37-9. This work, ISBN 978-1-955687-37-9, is supported by New Technologies for Agriculture Extension grant no. 2020- 41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Extension Director and talk about how to use it to enhance your Extension’s public outreach. 3. SHARE. Share this publication with potential community partners who could help you create new programming. 4. GIVE FEEDBACK. Did this publication inform your Extension work? Share what you’ve

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Creating a

New Activities & Partnerships

Internal Partnerships Internal partnerships are critical to the success of the project. In Lake and McHenry counties, the Unit Extension educator focused on creating inter- nal partnerships by initiating a Compost Team Net- work made up of Extension Master Gardeners and horticulture program coordinators from each coun- ty. The team of 12 meets monthly to discuss current compost-related programs and demonstration sites and voice education resource needs, identify community partner collaboration opportunities, and share knowledge. The network has resulted in cross-county relationships, tours of county demon- stration areas, and participation in events such as a compost giveaway and assistance in a waste audit. This collar county unit network demonstrates its intentional commitment to building a culture of composting in greater Chicagoland tailored to its unique suburban and peri-urban community needs. Additional internal partnerships have emerged, including additional Pumpkin Smashes hosted by other Illinois Extension units.

The NTAE grant allowed the team to offer compost demonstrations at their South Suburban Cook County Farm and at the Lake County Extension office, as well as test the finished compost from both locations. These demonstrations and scientific tests will provide urban farmers and gardeners the opportunity to learn best practices in composting outside a classroom. The culture of composting will grow more rapidly with multiple sets of community members excited, activated, and able to properly make and use compost. The team has also worked on translating educational materials into Spanish, offering online and in-person composting workshops, and training Compost Ambas- sadors—people who have completed at least eight hours of advanced compost education and then contin- ue to voluntarily educate others on the benefits of com- posting. In November 2022, the first Compost Passport was completed by a Cook County Master Gardener, who undertook seven activities, including volunteering at three Community Compost Collection events and a Pumpkin Smash. The Master Gardener is most proud that over the course of the year that she was able to turn her brother into a compost convert, convincing him to purchase his own rotary composter for his backyard. New internal and external partnerships have also emerged due to the team’s multi-pronged approach. The most impactful external partnership has been with the City of Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanita- tion (DSS). In 2022, DSS provided all the logistics and hauling for the Pumpkin Smashes, saving Illinois Exten- sion significant costs and headaches. In 2023, DSS and Illinois Extension would like to expand the program from four to as many as 10 events. In spring 2023, DSS be- gan piloting food scrap drop off and on-site compost- ing at six community gardens, while Illinois Extension is providing training, technical assistance, on-site visits, and free testing of the finished compost. In fall 2023, Chicago will bring back its free home compost bin pro- gram, with Illinois Extension providing compost educa- tion at the distribution events and producing additional educational materials, such as pamphlets and videos. ➤

Extension team educates Greater Chicagoland residents about the power of composting.

We meant to eat those greens and celery sticks—we really did. But they either got lost in the veggie drawer or pizza sounded better. Now, the spinach mix is slimy and the celery is limp, so we dump them and restock with produce that also has a good chance of ending up in the trash. Up to 40% of the food supply in the United States goes into the landfill every year. All of it is a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas considerably more harmful to the envi- ronment than carbon dioxide. Diverting this food from the garbage to a compost pile or bin can make a significant difference in the fight against climate change. Through its “Building a Culture of Composting in Greater Chicagoland” initiative, University of Illinois Extension is committed to making composting as second-nature as recycling has become in the communities it serves. Since 2020, the program has prevented the equivalent of 22 tons of CO2 release (the equivalent of removing five passenger vehicles from the road annually). These efforts are driven by the Environmental Protection Agency’s overall goal of cutting organic landfill waste in half by 2030.

This initiative has the potential not only to make compost- ing mainstream in Cook County and its surrounding collar counties of Lake, McHenry, Kane, DuPage, and Will, but to become a model for Extension teams around the country, says Extension educator and project team lead- er Kathryn Pereira. “Other land-grant universities could absolutely adopt or adapt our strategy—the cross-county and cross-system partnerships that this project has fostered would be a valuable model to be replicated.” Pereira and her team applied for an Extension Foundation New Technologies for Ag Extension (NTAE) grant to raise awareness of their model within Illinois Extension, through- out Illinois, and across the Cooperative Extension System.

The model has these primary goals: • Deliver composting education.

• Convene regional compost professionals to co-create solutions and action steps to improve the composting ecosystem. • Support small food businesses with food waste reduction and composting. • Provide residents opportunities to take action via Pumpkin Smashes and other food scrap collection events. • Partner with public and private organizations to build collective capacity for and commitment to composting.

Big Goals, Big Opportunity

Education & Advocacy

Awareness of the food waste problem and the need for composting is growing.

The EPA goal of reducing organic food waste by 50% in the next eight years is ambitious. In 2015, only 1.3% of food scraps in Illinois were diverted from landfills. But awareness of the food waste problem and the need for composting is growing. There are now 70 municipalities in eight counties that offer food scrap and yard waste pick-up, and the City of Chicago has prioritized supporting Pumpkin Smash- es and organic waste composting at community gardens, and is working on a pilot for residential food scrap pick up.

Perhaps the most visible events in Illinois Exten- sion’s composting initiative are Pumpkin Smashes. Jack O’Lanterns are a huge contributor to organic waste—composting pumpkins can prevent tons of methane emissions and save hundreds of thousands of dollars in landfill tipping fees. At a Pumpkin Smash, attendees catapult, throw, and smash their pumpkins for fun. Afterward, the pumpkins are taken to a com- post facility. The 12 events Illinois Extension has held since 2019 have reduced organic waste, shined a spotlight on the environmental work the organization does, and expanded its reach in certain communities.

Pictured on Previous Page: Pumpkin Smashes, like this one in 2020, provide education on composting while keeping pumpkins out of landfills. Pictured Below: Small-business food waste audits sort food into several categories, including compostable and noncompostable . Pictured on next page: Attendees brainstorm at Illinois Extension’s May 2023 composting summit.

As experts in agriculture and environ- mental protection, and with deep roots in rural and urban communities, Extension professionals are in an ideal position to promote composting. “It expands the focus of our work beyond the growing of food and links it to consumption and disposal,” Pereira says. “People in other communities are likely as eager as they are in ours for Extension partnership, because they trust us to deliver educa- tion-based programming that improves the quality of life for everyone.”

Our tips for creating and hosting a Pumpkin Smash

(See “Priority Communities.”) The idea of hosting Pumpkin Smashes to provide educa- tion on composting is spreading. In 2023, four new Illinois Extension-sponsored events in Lake, Macomb, McHenry, and McLean counties were set to take place in addition to four or more events in Chicago (Cook County). Pereira has also received inquiries from neighboring states’ Extension Services that might want to host Smashes. The two other major components of the NTAE Expansion project were the following: • A “Building a Culture of Composting” summit on May 12, 2023, to break down information silos, build collaboration, and empower organizations such as municipal sanitation departments and composting advocates to work together to promote and make composting easier and more accessible to more people. The team will follow up with the 80 attendees in one year to see what new initiatives have emerged. Meantime, informal feedback has been positive, with attendees saying, “This event was incredible. I am still processing everything I have learned. The contacts I made were worth the trip alone.” A local policy advocate reported that meeting a large waste hauler and hearing their perspective was “eye opening” and that they are rethinking how to include that perspective in future efforts. Overall, the team hopes that collaborations will emerge to help speed support for and adoption of composting throughout the region. A draft report was to be released to all attendees in Septem- ber 2023, followed by a publicly available report in fall 2023. • Encouraging small food businesses to reduce their compostable waste going to landfill by providing waste audits, technical assistance, and trial food scrap composting services. Preliminary results from the five businesses indicate that of the 846.6 total pounds sorted, 62% (522.2 pounds) was compostable material. The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) performed the waste audits, sorting two days’ worth of garbage and recycling at each business, specifically looking at organic waste generation. Organic waste was further sorted into categories— potentially avoidable food waste, unavoidable food waste, and non-food waste compostables—to provide tailored recommendations to each business for how to reduce organic waste generation.

Photo: Sunny Benbelkacem, The Value Web

The NTAE advisors who supported the composting team during the grant year say they are particularly impressed with the group’s tenacity and drive. “Kathryn and her team have a passion for the mission of composting and have a clear vision of the change they want to make in greater Chicagoland,” says Jimmy Henning. Adds Dyremple Marsh, “This energetic and passionate team works at solutions until they are achieved to make Chicagoland a more compost-friendly environment. Their commitment, passion, and dedication to seeing composting become a part of every household in greater Chicagoland are evident in all they do.” ■

Priority Communities While Illinois Extension is working to increase compost- ing across the city and state, the team seeks to support underserved communities.

Initially Pumpkin Smash events and partnerships were prioritized in areas where more than one-third of residents live at 185% below the federal poverty level. As the project increased in scope, services were prioritized using the Climate & Economic Justice Screening Tool. Some folks in these communities may never have heard of the term “composting”. Others are aware of it and believe in its value but may not have access to food scrap recycling services or a backyard in which to compost their own waste. Collection events provide a free service for communities, and education also focuses on alternatives to backyard bins such as vermicomposting and bokashi buckets. Language may also be a barrier in some communities, but “drop and swap” activities where residents can collect their scraps and receive finished compost are straightforward events that transcend language concerns. All types of communities benefit from the opportunity to dispose of their organic waste in a more environmentally sound way.

Photo: Sarah Farley, Illinois Extension

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