September 2021
Making Some Yummy Soil
Update on the Prescott Community Compost Project

Back in our February issue, when we were all still masked and being socially cautious, we ran a piece about a new project by the Prescott Farmers Market to create a volunteer-based community composting site. Demonstrating that they had capable, experienced staff and receiving a USDA grant to set it in motion, work began to create a home for the project on the rodeo grounds, with the blessing of both the City and County. Volunteer sessions to turn the piles occur every Sunday morning from 7-10, so I popped by to see how things are going.

Accessed via Schemmer Rd., Prescott Community Compost covers about a quarter-acre, on which the team has poured a large, flat concrete pad. All composting happens on this pad to prevent runoff and hold in moisture. The pad holds eight to ten large piles of compost in various stages of transformation.

Project leader Gabriel Kerbs collects about 1,500 pounds of food scraps each week from around 115 households, who drop off their food waste at the market on Saturdays, plus four restaurants that collect their waste in bins for weekly pickup.

When I showed up at 7am on a muggy Sunday morning, Gabriel was already setting out shovels, boots and buckets for volunteers, plus a shade tent with fresh coffee. He said that kind folks always bring food, as well. Soon there were about a dozen volunteers emptying the week’s collected scraps onto a long, shallow pile of wood chips mixed with some partially composted material. This was then thoroughly mixed with shovels and piled on top of a long six-inch PVC pipe with holes drilled in it. There are four such pipes, all connected to a fan that runs on two solar panels, blowing air into the pile from the bottom, which helps the pile break down faster without constant turning. Volunteers can only provide so many hours, so Gabriel has designed some very smart labor-saving work arounds. This pipe system is one of them.

Gary Kerbs demonstrates the Ker-Shinkle

As the microorganisms do their work breaking down food scraps into compost, they generate a lot of heat. Gabriel monitors the piles with large, long thermometers. A reading of 155°F means those little guys are doing a great job. Piles are turned less frequently as they age, and once the pile has cooled, it’s ready for sifting and bagging for distribution.

Another innovation, which should be patented, is the compost-sifter that Gabriel and his neighbor, Chip Shinkle, invented. They used an old cast-iron cement mixer, onto which they welded a heavy metal screen. This also runs on solar and saves endless volunteer hours of tedious hand-sifting. Just seeing this machine is worth a visit. They dubbed it the Ker-Shinkle, combining their last names.

With continuous turning and aerating the compost operation generates almost no odor or flies. My overall impression was of a well organized, healthy and clean operation. The volunteers frequently come back again and again and are well directed and supported. While Gabriel is the only paid staffer on the project, the Farmers Market board hopes to hire an assistant soon to help address the demand growth. Important to note is that this project is meant to stay people-based, to help people connect more deeply to where their food comes from, not to become a large-scale municipal project apart from the Farmers Market and its mission to build a closer, healthier community.

Jacob Wolf, a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, moved here from Colorado a while back and enjoys helping out with the compost project on Sundays. He works as a residential assistant on campus, and, as part of the school’s effort to get students out into the community and feeling less isolated, he started bringing ERAU students to the Farmers Market. When he learned about the composting project, he joined the volunteer team.

Another regular volunteer is Steve Walker, a retired former administrator at Yavapai College and avid gardener. After retiring, from both his YC job and several boards of various organizations, Steve was asked whether his love for local produce could translate into willingness to serve on the PFM board, and he gladly agreed. He spoke of the pride he feels for what PFM has accomplished in its short history, including this new composting project. “Look at what this generates! I’ve seen 20 people show up to turn compost!”

You are invited to stop by the Prescott Community Compost site on Sunday mornings. Volunteers are needed to help turn piles, but if shoveling is not so easy for you, the piles also need watering and buckets need washing. Bring a hat, some gloves, and be prepared to make some new friends.

Contact Gabriel to ask how you can help by emailing him at Buckets are distributed at the Saturday market at the Dignity Health (YRMC) parking lot,900 Iron Springs Rd. near True Value Hardware.

Abby Brill is Associate Editor of 5enses.

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