Modesto Composting Program Is Growing

A friend of mine has a compost pile in his back yard. He throws food scraps, coffee grounds and tree trimmings in it, and, after it does its magic, uses it as a soil conditioner.

Composting appears to be gaining in popularity. Maybe it's due to emerging interest in energy efficiency and self-sustainability. Maybe it's concern over greenhouse gases and climate change. Or maybe, in the case of the city of San Francisco, it's being forced upon them.

Whatever the reason, I love it. I hope it picks up steam, especially in the resource-rich San Joaquin Valley, where agriculture is king and farmers are true stewards of the land.

The Valley already has some programs. The Chaffee Zoo is composting and could start selling zoo poo, and Fresno State has a Green-Cycle program that produces 700 tons of compost per year using animal waste, some food scraps and green waste. All Fresno State compost is used on fields and lanscaping, but the campus could eventually sell Bulldog compost through the Gibson Farm Market, said Michael L. Mosinski, director of agricultural operations.

One city that has embraced the concept is Modesto, which operates its own compost facility and sells the final product, MO-gro-PRO, in 36-pound bags at its senior center and the composting facility.

City officials say they shave $1.4 million per year off landfill costs. The Modesto composting plant takes in 150 tons of yard waste per day. There, employees sort the waste and remove any trash put into bins by mistake. Nutrient-rich yard waste is mixed with chipped branches to add carbon content and, after grinding, is put into windrows.

The rows are watered and turned to encourage the growth of helpful organisms, which turn the waste into a humus-like product. The temperature of the rows range from 136 degrees to 150 degrees, which kills weed seeds and bacteria.

The entire process takes about five months. Kind of like fine wine.

Compost can be used in vegetable gardens, flower beds, and for tree planting and new lawns. Even established lawns benefit from a top dressing.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.