Grayslake farm field becomes center stage in project to test benefits of composting
A farm field in Grayslake was the focus Monday of a Lake County pilot program to raise the profile of composting and divert food waste from landfills.
Representatives from various entities watched as 11 semitrailers of compost -- about 220 cubic yards -- was spread in 40-by-600-foot strips on four parts of what is known as the Brae Loch farm, west of Route 45 and north of Center Street.
The mixture of yard waste, livestock manure and food scraps is referred to as "black gold" by those involved because of its ability to store carbon, loosen clay, hold moisture and provide other benefits.
"It has a lot of positive attributes we hope to share in this study," said Walter Willis, executive director of the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County. "Our end goal here is to create greater markets for compost."
The agency's membership includes 43 communities, Lake County and Great Lakes Naval Station. The agency develops and implements various recycling programs to keep materials out of landfills and educates residents, businesses and others on how and why to be environmental stewards.
In this case, the agency received a $90,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to host a pilot project to develop and test strategies involving composting and food waste.
Educating the public on the benefits of composting also is part of the two-year project.
Monday's compost application has three objectives: determine whether compost improves soil quality and moisture retention, improve crop yields to offset some use of fertilizers, and determine whether using compost on farm land or community gardens is worth the added cost.
The Brae Loch farm is owned by the Lake County Forest Preserve District and is considered a large operation. Compost also will be applied in four smaller community gardens.
The still warm mixture applied Monday from Midwest Organics Recycling in McHenry is about 75% landscape waste, 20% livestock manure and about 5% food scraps.
Food scraps make up about 18% of waste taken to landfills in Illinois and is the third-largest source of human-made methane, a potent greenhouse gas, according to the agency.
Food scrap collection is available in more than two dozen Lake County communities, but participation hasn't had a meaningful impact on diverting the material from landfills, the agency says.
And while a good additive for compost, the issue is what should be done with what's being collected.
"We need to sell what we have now," Willis said. "There is a substantial amount more material coming into this site (Midwest Organics) than is going out."
The two-year project is intended to develop a stronger way to manage food scraps and other organic material. It includes a farm/community garden demonstration study, strengthening community garden network, developing a market for compost, and stepping up educational efforts to increase participation.
"Use of local compost is limited," said Vytas Pabedinskas, a soil scientist and compost specialist involved in the project. "So, we are hoping to show off local compost to the potential local end users so they start using (it) in their land management practices."