Tag Archives: compost

Op-Ed: Cap-and-trade funds to support creative rural solutions

Paul Dolan and Renata Brillinger, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Overview from the CALCAN (California Climate and Agriculture Network) website:

Climate Smart Agriculture Programs – The state of California currently has four Climate Smart Agriculture programs that provide resources for California farmers and ranchers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and store carbon in soils and trees, while providing multiple benefits to agriculture and the environment. The programs are funded with proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade program.

Healthy Soils Initiative – The Healthy Soils Initiative was proposed by Governor Brown in 2015 and received initial funding of $7.5 million in 2016. The Initiative provides funding for farmer and rancher incentives to increase carbon storage in soils and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions through practices that build healthy soil such as compost application, cover crop, reduced tillage, conservation plantings and more. The program will also fund on-farm demonstration projects to provide growers, researchers and other ag professionals strategies for mitigating climate change in agriculture.

State Water Efficiency & Enhancement Program (SWEEP) – The program funds growers to improve their irrigation management practices to save water and energy and reduce related greenhouse gas emissions. Eligible project activities include pump upgrades and solar pump installation; conversion to drip or micro irrigation; improved water storage and/or recycling, soil moisture monitoring and irrigation scheduling.

Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALCP) – The program funds local government projects and permanent easements on agricultural lands at risk of development to prevent sprawl.

Dairy Digester Research and Development Program (DDRDP) – The program funds dairy digesters and related research to reduce methane emissions from the dairy sector. A portion of the funding will be allocated in 2017 to a new program called the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP).

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed Assembly Bill 398, which extends cap-and-trade, California’s cornerstone climate change program, through 2030. The program requires the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., the oil and gas industry, cement plants, large food processors) to cut their emissions. Without putting a price on carbon, we are unlikely to meet our climate change goals, the most ambitious in the country.

The state Legislature and governor will now debate how to budget billions of dollars in cap-and-trade revenue. In the past three years, California has invested more than $3 billion of cap-and-trade funds in our communities to accelerate the transition toward a clean energy economy. In January, Governor Brown proposed an additional $2.2 billion for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

To date, the money has been invested across California on projects that reduce emissions by weatherizing homes, installing solar panels, improving public transportation, building transit-oriented housing and more. In addition to these urban strategies, the state has also embraced sustainable agricultural solutions to climate change.

Since 2014, nearly $200 million has been granted to farmers and ranchers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to store carbon on their land. The country’s first Climate Smart Agriculture programs are demonstrating to the world that farmers and ranchers can be leaders in climate innovation.

Read more at: Close to Home: Cap-and-trade funds need to support creative rural solutions, like those on the North Coast | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Water

The drought fighting farmer

Todd Oppenheimer, CRAFTSMANSHIP MAGAZINE

Updated August 2017

One Spring afternoon in 2014, on a small vegetable farm that Paul Kaiser runs in a particularly chilly valley in Sebastopol, California, a group of agriculture specialists gathered around a four-foot steel pole. The experts had come to test the depth and quality of Kaiser’s top-soil, and one of them, a veteran farmer from the Central Valley named Tom Willey, leaned on the pole to push it into the dirt as far as he could. On a typical farm, the pole comes to a stop against infertile hard-pan in less than a foot. But in Kaiser’s field, the pole’s entire length slid into the ground, and Willey almost fell over. “Wow, that’s incredible,” he said, wondering if he’d hit a gopher hole. The whole group burst out laughing. “Do it again! Do it again!” said Jeff Mitchell, a longtime professor of agriculture at the University of California at Davis.

The group successfully repeated the exercise, over and over—for fun, for photo ops, and to be sure that Kaiser really had accomplished the various feats he talks about, which he does almost incessantly these days. It’s not the easiest sell. Kaiser, an ebullient former woodworker who was only 40 when I first visited, farms a mere eight acres, and harvests fewer than three of them. Nonetheless, his methods are at the forefront of a farming movement that is so new (at least in the U.S.), and so built for a climate-changed world of diminishing rains, that it opens up gargantuan possibilities. One might call this methodology sustainability on steroids, because it can generate substantial profits. Last year, Kaiser’s Sonoma County farm grossed more than $100,000 an acre, which is 10 times the average per-acre income of comparable California farms. This includes Sonoma’s legendary vineyards, which have been overtaking farmland for decades, largely because wine grapes have become much more lucrative these days than food, at least the way most farmers grow it.

Kaiser and his wife, Elizabeth, manage all of this without plowing an inch of their ground, without doing any weeding, and without using any sprays—either chemical or organic. And while most farmers, even on model organic farms, constantly tinker with various fertilizer cocktails, Kaiser concentrates on just one: a pile of rotten food and plants, commonly known as compost, and lots of it. Kaiser then adds this compost to a rare blend of farming practices, both old and new, all aimed at returning dirt to the richest, most fertile seedbed possible. “It’s unique,” Mitchell told me after his visit. “I’ve never seen anything approaching that kind of thing.”

Read more at: The Drought Fighter – Craftsmanship Magazine

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County officials seek to resurrect regional green waste composting operation

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The search for a new home for composting Sonoma County’s green waste is moving forward as officials seek to finally end the costly practice of shipping green-bin material off to neighboring counties.Within several years, the county may again have a single main facility — or several smaller ones — to process grass clippings, food scraps and other green waste, which has been sent by truck to other counties for the past year and a half since the former central site shut down amid a lawsuit over water pollution concerns.

It is not yet clear exactly what form a renewed regional compost operation — long a disputed county matter — would take. But the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency is advancing plans to bring in a private operator to handle the green waste from local cities, with a request for development proposals likely going out later this spring.And the waste agency — which is on the cusp of securing a new lifeline from local governments — is looking to learn from its past troubles by shifting as much responsibility as possible onto the shoulders of the new private operator.

“Essentially, we’re just the customer at this point,” said Patrick Carter, the waste agency’s executive director. “We’re committing a flow of green waste to a private company on private land, where they assume all of the liabilities for making sure that it is in compliance and operating correctly, in exchange for us committing our flow for 10-plus years. It’s a different model.”

Sonoma Compost Co. processed green waste at the county’s central landfill west of Cotati from 1993 until October 2015, when its closure was triggered by a Clean Water Act lawsuit.

The county began sending green waste to sites in Ukiah, Napa, Novato and Vacaville for disposal, a practice that now costs more than $4.7 million annually, according to Carter.

Read more at: Sonoma County officials seek to resurrect regional green waste composting operation | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living

Single-bin recycling frustrates California’s goal to divert trash from landfills

James Dunn, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

As single-stream recycling evolved, “people got more and more confused,” Salyers said. “They would throw things in that weren’t” recyclable. “We’re trying to tell them what they can put in their blue cans.”

Recycling sounds like an ideal solution to reduce mountains of trash. Facing business and legal issues, local recycling efforts are also plagued by technical and market problems.

Trash typically contains nearly two-thirds of its weight in organic material that could be composted or glass, metal, plastic or paper that can be recycled. Nearly 25 years ago, California passed law to divert recyclable material out of garbage. Some of that effort worked, but recyclables separated by businesses and consumers into blue bins often contain trash that contaminates the good stuff, reducing its value in markets for used plastic, glass, metal and paper.

Sonoma County’s trash volume dropped from 375,000 tons in 2007 to 263,000 tons in 2014, still nearly half a billion pounds. At that rate of more than 1,000 pounds per person per year, the 1.3 million people in Sonoma, Solano, Marin and Napa counties toss away more than 1.3 billion pounds of stuff a year.

The Ratto Group, owned by James Ratto, does trash pickup and recycling in Sonoma County with subsidiary companies that sprawl across the region under its North Bay Corporation: Redwood Empire Disposal in Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa Recycling and Collection, Petaluma Refuse and Recycling, Rohnert Park Disposal, Windsor Refuse and Recycling, and Novato Disposal.

Marin Sanitary Service, operated by the Garbarino family, operates from headquarters in San Rafael. Napa Recycling and Waste and Napa County Recycling and Waste serve that county. Sister company Upper Valley Disposal and Recycling serves Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. Garaventa Enterprises serves Solano County.

An audit by R3 Consulting Group for the city of Santa Rosa presented last year alleged that Ratto’s company did not meet minimum levels of a 45 percent diversion of recyclables, and operated trucks and a recycling facility that fell short of acceptable standards.

The city contract with Ratto expires at the end of 2017 and brought the company about $27 million a year.

“The company’s two material recovery facilities are approximately 15 years old, antiquated, and are not able to process the incoming recyclable materials to current industry standards,” the R3 report said. “There is no effective means for metering the incoming materials,” and “we observed numerous rats in the facility,” far more than staff observed in comparable facilities.

One facility was ordered closed, and Ratto Group faces potential fines that could reach $14 million.

Read more at: Single-bin recycling frustrates California’s goal to divert trash from landfills | The North Bay Business Journal

Filed under Sustainable Living

Santa Rosa buying Petaluma hay ranch as treated waste disposal site

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa is buying a Petaluma pasture to make sure it has enough places to put people’s processed poop.

The city is close to acquiring a 235-acre Lakeville Highway hay ranch so it can use the property to spread a byproduct of the wastewater treatment process known as biosolids.

The approximately $2 million deal, which was advanced by the Board of Public Utilities Thursday, highlights the pressures the city faces in finding affordable ways to recycle waste in an era of increasingly stringent environmental regulations.

Santa Rosa recycles its wastewater to irrigate crops and produce geothermal energy at The Geysers, the latter solution costing the city $205 million to build while earning engineering and sustainability awards.

But less known by the general public is what happens to the 26,000 tons of thick black sludge that remains behind annually after the main treatment processes are complete.

That’s enough to “fill the entire playing field of AT&T Park eight feet deep every year,” said Mike Prinz, director of subregional operations for Santa Rosa Water.

More than a third of it is mixed with green waste like chopped up leaves and grass clippings to make high-quality compost, most of which is sold to local farms, vineyards and landscaping companies.

A far cheaper option has long been to apply the nutrient-rich material, which has the consistency of wet coffee grounds, directly to farmland as fertilizer.

Because the waste goes through an extra 21-day digestion process to capture methane to power the Llano Road treatment plant, it has far fewer pathogens and odors than the byproducts of other treatment plants.

Nevertheless, there are strict rules about how it can be applied, including that it be disked into the soil, set back from creeks and public access restricted after application.

Read more at: Santa Rosa buying Petaluma hay ranch as treated waste disposal site | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County weighs how to bring back composting

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Black soldier flies eat decomposing food scraps, turning it into natural fertilizer. Anaerobic digestion converts yard debris into organic compost in an oxygen-starved environment while making natural gas out of the methane produced. Compost facilities incorporate worm farms to break down food and yard waste into high-quality compost for backyard gardeners and large-scale farmers.

Sonoma County waste officials are considering such technologies as part of a plan to bring locally produced compost back to the county, roughly a year after a high-profile Clean Water Act lawsuit forced the shutdown of Sonoma Compost Co., a private operation at the Central Landfill west of Cotati that since 1993 served as the largest local producer of compost.

Between now and Nov. 14, the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency is seeking input and assessing interest from businesses with experience in composting, as well as entrepreneurs who may be interested in launching new local composting operations. Requests for specific proposals are expected to open early next year.

Hauling the 88,000 tons of yard waste and food scraps produced in the county to four outside sites in Novato, Ukiah, Napa and Vacaville costs ratepayers $4.5 million per year, according to waste agency officials, up from $2.5 million when it was handled locally. Garbage bill rates have ticked up slightly, compost has become more expensive and transporting organic material to neighboring sites ratchets up emissions of greenhouse gases associated with producing compost, county waste officials said.

Supervisors expressed support this week for the idea of multiple sites run by the private sector, a reversal from previous plans to have the waste management agency operate a central site. Private composting business could halt the practice of trucking away compostable materials, reduce waste management agency costs and eliminate future risks of legal action.

Read more at: Sonoma County weighs how to bring back composting | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County’s improving economy means more trash 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

CalRecycle spokeswoman Heather Jones said the disposal increase and recycling rate decrease suggested the state needed to continue expanding its recycling infrastructure.

Sonoma County threw away nearly 63,000 tons more trash last year compared with the year before, according to recent figures that indicate the nation’s improving economy hampered local efforts to divert more waste from landfills.

The county disposed of about 386,900 tons of material in 2015, the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency reported last month. That’s an average of 4.3 pounds of waste per person per day, compared to 3.6 pounds per person per day a year earlier.

The latest figures show local waste disposal increased significantly as the economy improved in recent years. The county threw out about 306,100 tons in 2012, and disposal has increased each year since then, according to reports from the waste management agency.

Officials said the disposal uptick was driven by the economic rebound — a factor that fueled a similar increase for the state overall.

As a whole, Californians last year sent 33.2 million tons of material to landfills in 2015, up from 31.2 million tons in 2014, according to the state Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, or CalRecycle. On a per-resident basis, Californians threw away 4.7 pounds per person per day in 2015, as opposed to 4.5 pounds in 2014. The Sonoma County waste figures do not include recycled or composted material, nor do they encompass hazardous waste or trash generated on tribal land, said Patrick Carter, executive director of the county waste management agency.

Waste disposed at county transfer stations increased to about 278,400 tons in 2015, up about 5,000 tons from 2014, according to Carter. The total county figure also includes waste that originated in Sonoma County but was disposed of elsewhere. Carter said the total increase was likely driven by a better economy, which he said could have resulted in more construction and demolition debris as well as more trash from consumer spending.

“When people have no disposable income, they’re not going to be buying things, and they’re not going to be throwing those things away,” Carter said. “But when they’re making more purchases, either they’re getting rid of their old stuff or they’re getting rid of packaging and things like that.”

Read more at: Sonoma County’s improving economy means more trash | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living

New compost site scrapped at Sonoma County’s Central Landfill 

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After nine years and $1 million of study, Sonoma County waste officials say they’re abandoning plans to build a new composting facility at the county landfill west of Cotati.

The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency announced Monday that as part of a legal settlement with landfill neighbors, it would no longer pursue the green waste project, pegged at up to $55 million.

“This is not, I think, government’s proudest moment,” said Don Schwartz, Rohnert Park assistant city manager and an agency board member. “On the other hand, it’s better to spend $1 million than $50 million and not have a good solution.”

Under terms of the settlement, the neighbors will dismiss their lawsuit if the agency votes next month to rescind certification of the environmental report for the project and other documents related to the Central Landfill site.

The decision, which won’t be finalized until an agency board meeting next month, marks the second time in a year that neighbors have successfully blocked a composting operation at the Mecham Road landfill.

Read more at: New compost site scrapped at Sonoma County’s Central Landfill | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County supervisors vote to extend compost agency

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors have voted to extend the beleaguered Sonoma County Waste Management Agency until officials can hammer out a deal to return composting to a local facility and settle a high-profile lawsuit challenging the planned future compost site at the Central Landfill.

The agency, which oversees the county’s multimillion dollar composting operation, will dissolve next February unless representatives from Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Rohnert Park approve a one-year extension until February 2018. The county and the remaining six cities already have voted in favor of extending the agency operations, which include education programs and collection of yard waste, food scraps and hazardous materials.

Santa Rosa and Healdsburg will take up the matter this month. Rohnert Park voted in January against an extension, but city officials could take up the issue again. Meanwhile, officials said they hope to resolve some points of contention.

“We think we can get the fundamental issues resolved before the sunset date,” said Don Schwartz, Rohnert Park’s assistant city manager, who represents the city on the agency’s board.

The agency has been under fire in recent years for what some county and city officials contend is an inefficient organization plagued with prolonged legal troubles. At issue is construction and operation of a new $55 million compost facility at the Central Landfill on Mecham Road west of Cotati. Sonoma Compost Co., a private company and the county’s former dominant compost provider, was forced to close in October by a settlement of a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by a group of neighbors who live near the landfill. The settlement cost ratepayers more than $1.1 million.

Since the closure, ratepayers have seen increases of about $4 on their monthly garbage bills to pay for the costs of hauling organic matter out of the county, said Patrick Carter, the agency’s interim director.

“We are desperate to bring compost back to Sonoma County — our farmers need it, and outhauling all that waste is not a good economic or environmental solution,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the county’s representative on the 10-member board of directors for the agency. “The question is how do we build a state-of-the-art facility without being subject to lawsuit after lawsuit.”

Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors vote to extend compost agency | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living

Food scraps now OK in Sonoma County yard waste bins

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Under a little-recognized shift in rules at Sonoma County’s Waste Management Agency, households are now allowed to throw all food scraps into the green bin, including meat, bones and dairy products.

Rules were changed last July, when the agency started hauling yard waste and food scraps to compost facilities outside Sonoma County, but agency officials did not inform the public. Since the closure of Sonoma Compost Co. last October, the agency has been trucking all yard and food waste to compost facilities in Novato, Ukiah and Vacaville.

“We didn’t tell everyone right away because we wanted to make sure what we were taking to the other sites was acceptable to them,” said Patrick Carter, interim executive director for the agency. “We wanted to make sure there was enough capacity, and we didn’t want to cause rates to go up.”

Ratepayers have already seen higher bills this year. Rates have risen roughly $4 per month since October, Carter said.It costs about $4.5 million to truck organic waste out of county, up from $2 million when it was handled at the Central Landfill west of Cotati.

Waste accepted for compost includes produce, pasta and bread, eggshells, meat and bones, cheese, tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, grass clippings and leaves and paper plates and napkins.

Read more at: Food scraps now OK in Sonoma County yard | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living