Author Topic: You've Got to Be Kidding: Compost War!  (Read 1303 times)

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Offline TheOldBuzzard

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You've Got to Be Kidding: Compost War!
« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2008, 03:29:01 AM »
Two state agencies say he is a farm and one agency says he is not? So the
majority should rule.


In recent months Karl Hammer, farmer and owner of the Vermont Compost
Company in Montpelier, has been struggling to continue operations in the
face of legal action by the State of Vermont that allege that Vermont
Compost is operating in violation of ACT 250, VT's land use development law.
Karl vigorously disputes this and his appeal is now pending before Vermont's
Environmental Court.

On July 7th, in an unexpected and outrageous development, the state's
Natural Resources Board (NRB) served Karl with a "Cease and Desist" order
requiring him to immediately cease operations, remove all compost from his
farm and pay an $18,000 fine for violating ACT 250 -- even though there have
been no court hearings or judgments on his pending appeal!!! Karl has been
given 15 days to appeal this order, which he will now do.

These gratuitous and aggressive actions by the Natural Resources Board
threaten the future of Vermont Compost Company, as well as the farms and
businesses of scores of certified organic growers across Vermont, a large
number of whom depend upon ermont Compost's products in producing locally
grown, organic fruits and vegetables.

By SARAH HINCKLEY Times Argus Staff

MONTPELIER - In less than a year, The Wayside Restaurant and Bakery
has sent 47 tons of food scraps to the Vermont Compost Co.

Now the Wayside and many others who divert food waste from landfills
are wondering where their scraps are going to go if the Vermont Compost Co.
shuts down as ordered by the state's Natural Resource Board.

Diverting food scraps at the Wayside, a popular local diner, has not
only reduced the restaurant's solid waste bill, but the garbage truck stops
by less often to pick up non-food waste items, according to owner Brian

In April 2007, employees of the restaurant began segregating food
scraps from the regular trash and by January, 47 fewer tons had gone into
the state's landfills - more since then, of course.

"It was quite a challenge to do it, but we're very happy to be doing
it," said Zecchinelli, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Karen. "It
took a lot of effort and continues to be another job for the dish people,
but they've embraced it."

There are 36 participants in the Central Vermont Solid Waste
District's food composting program, according to Lydia Menendez, special
programs coordinator. She estimates an average of 13 tons of food scraps are
kept from landfills each week through the program.

Participating in the program are schools, restaurants, baking
companies, grocery stores and the cafeterias from state government buildings
and large businesses represented in the 22 member towns of the district.
There have been as many as 42 participants in the food compost program at
one time since it began in April 2004. At the end of last week, from its
inception, the program has kept 1,944 tons of food waste out of the
landfill, according to Menendez.

So what will those suppliers of food waste - the Wayside, schools,
etc. - do if Vermont Compost Company is forced to shut down its operations?

"We're still working on the details as to what that might look like,"
Mendez said Tuesday.

The solid waste district's executive director, Donna Barlow Casey, and
Vermont Compost owner Karl Hammer are scheduled to meet today to put a plan

"Our understanding is their East Montpelier site is our backup," said
Barlow Casey. "It's unfortunate that he got caught in the situation he's in.
Keeping organics out of the landfill is critical . If our state, which has a
reputation of being a green state, here and around the country, puts Karl
out of business, that would be a horrific outcome."

Hammer was given an order to cease commercial composting operations by
the state's Natural Resources Board on July 7. He has 15 days to request a
hearing and appeal the order, which Hammer said he is doing.

"This is pending litigation, I'm not exactly clear what the state - or
the NRB - wants," said Hammer about the order. "We're fully operational.
We're accepting materials. We have animals here. We have a responsibility to
the 40 participants. We have a responsibility to our customers to provide
their horticultural needs."

Several area farmers posted signs next to their booths at the Capital
City Farmers Market last Saturday noting how their business depends upon the
Vermont Compost Company.

"This is very key infrastructure for Vermont's organic crop," said
Hammer, whose business, along with Intervale Compost Products in Burlington,
was a focus during the last legislative session. "You don't shut off a water
source before finding another. This order is strictly definitional."

In the order, the Natural Resources Board says Hammer and his company
are in violation for commencing development without a land use permit. The
company was incorporated under Vermont law in 1993 and established at its
current Main Street location in 1996, according to Hammer. If the NRB order
stands through the hearing process, Hammer could be subject to up to $18,000
in fines.

"We're still operating, we didn't cease," said Jennifer Whitman, one
of nine employees of the compost company. "There's no plan if we did have to
stop operations."

Doing so may also change the way the New England Culinary Institute
does business, both in instructing students and helping the environment.

"We talk a lot about composting in all of our classes," said Tom
Bivins, executive chef for NECI. "We think it's part of our responsibility
as food educators and leaders in the community."

The culinary institute has been composting its food scraps for at
least the duration of the Central Vermont Solid Waste District's program. A
significant amount of what the school throws away from its outlets in
Montpelier goes to the compost company.

"It's easily 50 percent of our waste," said Bivins, explaining how the
culinary institute's programming includes a sustainable component. "It's
huge, all of our scraps, all of our things that we can't have our students
creatively make into something. It's substantial for us."

"All of our facilities are composting," he said. "Our students are
very excited about buying local and composting . Once they see it works,
they take it with them."

Hammer has until July 22 to appeal the order to cease composting
operations from the Natural Resources Board.

"This is quite extraordinary for the NRB to intervene on its own,"
said Hammer, referring to a prior case with the company that is in the
appeal process in the state's environmental court.

"This is extraordinary and it's quite Draconian. We really don't know
what the goal here is."