NTAE: Creating a Culture of Composting Feature Story

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.

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