Compost — a professional gardener’s black gold — could be the key in turning kitchen and table scraps into fresh herbs and vegetables served at the Gaia Hotel’s Woodside Grill restaurant and the cafeteria at Anderson Union High School.
That is the dream of Keith Campbell, who operates composting and greenhouse operations for the family-owned Gold Leaf Nursery & Landscaping in Anderson.
“I read a story about a HotRot table scrap composting process (at Sierra Nevada Brewery, Taproom and Restaurant) in Chico and I began to wonder whether we could bring that technology back to Anderson,” said Campbell, 32, a Chico State University graduate. “We are a community that is poor and hurting. Why shouldn’t we take kitchen waste and turn it into something good,” said Campbell, who already takes garden clippings and other green waste from his father’s nursery operation to compost for the nursery’s own greenhouses.
The article Campbell recently found was posted last summer to the edible Shasta-Butte online magazine’s website, www.ediblecommunities.com.
“After I read the story, I was inspired to go and see it for myself,” Campbell said.
Ken Grossman, founder and chief executive officer of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, is dedicated to organics and agriculture. Grossman has preached sustainability and reducing waste in all departments since he started construction of the brewery in 1979.
To help the company achieve its goal of closing the loop on recycling its own waste products, Grossman hired Cheetah Tchudi in the fall of 2010 to manage the brewery’s garden and greenhouse operations.
As soon as was practical, Campbell used one of his Tuesdays off to drive down to Chico and contact Tchudi about a possible tour.
Tchudi operates the brewery’s two-acre organic produce and herb garden and recently completed construction of a 2,880 square foot greenhouse to provide organic vegetables for menu items. He coordinates his growing efforts with the kitchen staff overseen by Executive Chef Michael Iles. Sierra Nevada’s bustling restaurant serves 400 to 500 guests on a typical weekday and up to 750 guests on weekends, writer Candace Byrne reports in the online magazine article.
Tchudi also works with the brewery’s sustainability department that strategically places five-gallon plastic buckets clearly labeled “COMPOST” in the restaurant’s kitchen and collects potato peelings, assorted vegetable scraps and even the food left on patrons’ plates for the HotRot composter, Byrne writes in her article.
More than 500 pounds of food waste gets collected from Sierra Nevada’s restaurant each day, material that previously was sent to a compost facility in Marysville before the brewery began its own composting operation, Byrne’s article states.
“We collect all of the food waste leaving the restaurant – both kitchen scrap as well as post-consumer plate scrapings – as well as all food and paper towel waste from all employee break rooms for use in the HotRot,” explained Mandi McKay, who works in the company’s sustainability department.
“I double-checked our bulk density numbers. Since our compost has been coming out on the drier side of the spectrum, we’re actually only getting about 500 pounds to 600 pounds of compost per day. In volumetric terms, we get between 1 yard to 1.5 yards of finished compost per day,” McKay told the Valley Post Thursday, March 29.
The HotRot is a $30,000 machine “engineered in New Zealand that consists of an enclosed modular stainless-steel U-shaped chamber, about 40 feet in length,” Byrne writes.
Once Tchudi was able to arrange a tour, Campbell contacted Chef Gregory McChristian of the Gaia Hotel’s Woodside Grill in Anderson as well as Richard Parks, who oversees greenhouse operations at Anderson Union High School.
Campbell also invited Dale Benkey, a builder of greenhouses, to join the tour.
“He inspired the while thing. He wants to start his own home brew system,” Campbell said of Benkey.
On March 6, also a Tuesday, most of the group gathered for the special Sierra Nevada tour, Campbell said.
“Richard Parks was unable to make the trip because he couldn’t get the day off,” Campbell noted.
“It was very cool,” McChristian, 42, said of the experience. “While the HotRot machine is a little bit crazy for most people, I went because eventually we are interested in producing some of our own food for the restaurant.”
McChristian already maintains a small herb garden at the front of the Woodside Grill, but sometimes runs into problems with the Shasta County Health Department inspectors.
“They want an ag certificate to make sure the dogs won’t walk through there. They need to be able to track where every food item came from,” said McChristian.
McChristian estimates he takes home nearly 200 pounds of kitchen waste each day that he turns into compost on his small ranch outside Red Bluff.
“We also have a pig farmer who takes all of the non-meat table scraps to feed to his hogs,” McChristian said.
Campbell, too, was impressed with the Sierra Nevada operation.
“We learned a lot on that tour,” Campbell noted.
For example, spent grain and yeast from the brewery is used to feed cows raised at the Chico State University’s farm. When harvested, the animals yield beef that is served in the restaurant, he said.
Also, some of the brewery’s spent yeast serves as a direct and beneficial soil amendment since it is rich in nitrogen, often a major ingredient in commercial fertilizers, Campbell noted.
Finally, as fast and efficient as the HotRot machine might be for the brewery, traditional composting outdoors with frequent turning of the decaying vegetable matter would be enough to serve the needs of both the restaurant and school cafeteria, he added. “What we learned from the field trip was we don’t need the HotRot. We just need to close the loop,” Campbell said.
In an email to the Valley Post, Tchudi agreed with Campbell’s observation.
“The HotRot does an amazing job of taking raw inputs and reducing them to a mild, manageable product in as little as 14 days. We produce about a ton of compost per day from the continuous feed system. We have two acres of garden, nine acres of hops and 32 acres of barley, so there is plenty of compost to go around,” Tchudi writes.
But possibly what impressed the group the most was how creative Tchudi was at finding out what vegetables and herbs the brewery’s restaurant uses most and then concentrating his efforts to grow the most expensive of those plants as a way to reduce costs, Campbell explained.
“Now, the restaurant is actually planning its menu items based in part on what Tchudi can grow in the greenhouses and the garden,” Campbell noted.
During the drive back to Anderson, the group decided, “We can be creative and adjust things to suit our own situations,” he added.
Again, Tchudi commented.
“They have the right idea,” writes Tchudi, who earned a bachelor’s degree in agroecology and mycology from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.
“Start small, be patient,” he advises. “It takes time to find out what works in the kitchen, what works for your environment and what the consumers like. Grow products that accentuate the consumer’s experience and add value to the plate. Herbs, sprouts and edible blooms are all good places to start,” Tchudi encouraged Campbell, Parks and McChristian.