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Adults standing in front of a greenhouse.

Oak Hammock residents tour Student Compost Cooperative at the Soil and Water Sciences Department

On June 16th, the UF Student Compost Cooperative (SCC) hosted a group of residents from Oak Hammock at the University of Florida who want to promote composting in their community. Oak Hammock is a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). Previously, the group welcomed Dr. Ann Wilkie, director of the SCC, to Oak Hammock to see their gardens and composting efforts. When the group came to UF they were met by Wilkie and two of her interns, Amber Riner and Laura Valletti. The residents’ goal is to reduce food waste in their individual living spaces and dining facilities and keep the food that is not eaten out of the landfill.

Female professor pointing out words on an easel.

Dr. Ann Wilkie points out the benefits of composting. (Photo by Mike Loizzo)

“There is so much water and valuable nutrients in leftover food that it should be put to good use,” said Wilkie, who is a Research Professor of Bioenergy and Sustainable Technology in the UF/IFAS Soil and Water Sciences Department. “Plus, keeping it out of the landfill reduces greenhouse gas emissions and avoids pollutants leaking from landfills.”

Nutrients that can be returned to the soil from compost include carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Additionally, compost functions as a disease suppressant, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. An increase in microbial activity and diversity gives beneficial organisms a competitive edge over pathogens in the soil.1

Listening, Looking, Learning
People looking inside composting bins.

Dr. Ann Wilkie shows Oak Hammock residents the composting process at the SCC. (Photo by Mike Loizzo)

The Oak Hammock residents are not new to composting but wanted to know more.

“I knew I did not have nearly enough (dried) leaves in my compost, and I could tell just by looking at it,” George Arola confessed after looking inside one of the SCC compost bins. “I had read it’s supposed to be more like a one-to-two ratio, but I have about 95 percent kitchen waste.”

Wilkie suggested using shredded paper or cardboard if you don’t have dried leaves. She also recommends having that as the bottom layer of your compost bin. That placement will serve as a sponge to absorb any liquid from food waste as it decomposes.

Questions ranged from the type of food you can compost to whether you should add frozen food scraps. “You can compost almost any food waste, but first chop it into little pieces,” Wilkie said. Even meats and fats are OK in very small amounts if you have an enclosed composter to keep away animals. For frozen foods, it’s best to let them thaw first.

Spreading the Word on Composting

The Oak Hammock residents were impressed with the SCC’s operation and Dr. Wilkie’s presentation motivated them to further implement composting. They were amazed at seeing the final product, which SCC members use in their garden plots. The Oak Hammock composting group is now more energized to share their new knowledge and to get their fellow residents onboard, as well as the management of Oak Hammock.

“Composting is something everyone can do, whether you live in a house, an apartment, or the residence halls on campus,” Wilkie said. “It’s a sustainable way to manage food waste and to improve soil health.”

Learn more about the UF Student Compost Cooperative:

Website: http://biogas.ifas.ufl.edu/SCC/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/287358097970800/

YouTube video tour: https://youtu.be/ikW1_n_kDV8