This spring, the Fulton Farm at Wilson College began testing an in-vessel composter that can convert food waste into a soil amendment much more quickly than the static compost pile (windrow) method used on the farm previously.

On loan to the college farm for three years, the 300-gallon, state-of-the-art machine is manufactured by DTEnvironmental Inc., a Lynden, Washington-based subsidiary of dairy manure-handling manufacturer DariTech Inc. It is a smaller version of the company’s larger food waste composters.

The college is using the device to convert food waste into compost, which is then used as a soil amendment on the farm’s fields.

“We were looking for a place that could test it out and give it a little TLC,” said Steven Peerce, DTE’s new business representative. “The college benefits by being able to use it both for education and for their composting program, and for us, the farm operates as a test market for this model.”

The unit, which is capable of producing 300 to 350 pounds of compost a week, will enable the farm to generate compost at a much faster rate than the static compost pile/windrow method previously used, according to Chris Mayer, director of Wilson’s Fulton Center for Sustainability Studies.

Wilson has been composting food waste from the campus dining hall for more than 10 years. In 2015, the Fulton Center expanded the farm’s composting operation when it entered into an agreement with Volvo Construction Equipment in Shippensburg to compost the Volvo facility’s kitchen waste.

“Food waste, when it is sent to a landfill, is a significant contributor of methane gas,” said Mayer. “By diverting this waste from the landfill, we are demonstrating that small-scale systems can and do help curb greenhouse gas emissions.”

During the first six months of this year, the composter processed nearly 4,000 of the 8,871 pounds of food waste composted by the farm. The rest was broken down into compost through the windrow method, Mayer said.

While the DTE in-vessel composter is on loan to Wilson College, “our charge is research and development—to refine the compost recipe and develop a protocol for this type of machine,” said Mayer.

Besides providing compost for the campus farm, the machine will offer students studying chemistry and microbiology opportunities for research. “The in-vessel composter greatly accelerates the natural processes and allows for learning though experimentation and comparison,” Mayer said.

In addition, she said it will provide opportunities to educate people about innovative solutions for reducing food waste. Mayer hopes to hold public education sessions centered on the composter. “As we refine the process, this will be a great opportunity for public outreach,” she said.

DTEnviromental is the environmental branch of DariTech, which got its start manufacturing manure composters to provide bedding for dairy cows before branching out to make food waste composters.

Published: July 21, 2017