From simple beginnings, The Compost Cooperative expands across Franklin County

  • Eli Smith, 24, picks up a compost bucket on Franklin Street in Greenfield on Monday.

  • Eli Smith, 24, picks up a compost bucket on Franklin Street in Greenfield on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer
Published: 6/17/2022 5:23:29 PM
Modified: 6/17/2022 5:23:19 PM

Beginning four years ago as a program that primarily offered limited service in Greenfield, The Compost Cooperative has grown to include households across Franklin County, with plans for further expansion.

“If every resident of Greenfield had access to diversion services, we could divert 1,500 tons of food scraps per year away from landfills and incinerators and into composting operations,” said work-owner Revan Schendler. “That would allow us, and the city … to provide compost to any resident who wanted it for free. We live in a culture where everything has to have a cost, so trying to set up a program that will make things affordable ... has its challenges.”

The Compost Cooperative was developed in 2018 to give businesses and residents the ability to get rid of compostable waste and also provide former Franklin County House of Correction inmates a chance to run their own business. With a used 1-ton pickup truck with a lift gate, the cooperative started by collecting compostable material from The People’s Pint, Hope & Olive, Magpie, Mesa Verde and the town of Whately.

“When we started out, most of our customers were commercial customers and institutional customers. Then COVID came and we lost 90% of our revenue. We had to pivot to expanding our residential service, which is now larger than our commercial,” Schendler said. “We bring in more revenue than the commercial one.”

With the support of a $60,000 Urban Agenda Grant, the cooperative has been able to offer up to five full-time work-owner jobs, with the goal of expanding its residential services even further.

Currently, she said, the co-operative hauls compost from 400 households and is on track to serve 500 households in the community by the fall. Haulers collect food scraps from households in Greenfield, Gill, Montague, Sunderland, Whately and Deerfield. Since receiving the grant, The Compost Cooperative now also hauls compost from Conway, Charlemont and Shelburne.

“We’re very interested in expanding access for low-income residents of Greenfield to diversion services,” Schendler said. “It’s not just a matter of advertising to this population; it’s a matter of putting together systems where institutions and businesses that are interested in supporting our community’s response to the climate crisis, support this effort.”

She noted that people on fixed incomes cannot support a service that costs between $17 and $29 per month.

“We’re looking for visionary partners, in order to provide these services at minimal costs to residents of housing complexes in Greenfield,” Schendler said, noting the cooperative is currently in conversations with the sustainability committee at Baystate Franklin Medical Center.

Schendler explained that food scraps in landfills produce methane, which is a big contributor to climate change.

“Getting those scraps out of the waste stream and into the soil makes it more resilient in the face of extreme weather,” she said.

In addition to the environmental benefit composting provides, there’s also a monetary savings involved for those who compost, she said.

“In Greenfield, trash stickers have just increased,” Schendler said. “Let’s just say you could use two large bags per week at $3 each. That’s $6 per week, which is $312 per year.”

Customers of the cooperative are also able to divert more materials than they can by using a backyard composter — such as meat and bones, compostable containers and even oily pizza boxes.

“This initiative aligns with the city’s 2014 Sustainable Greenfield Master Plan and helps put the ‘Green’ in Greenfield,” commented the city’s Community Development Administrator Lindsay Rowe.

Schendler said Rowe has been “an incredible ally and supporter” of The Compost Cooperative.

“The kind of collaboration that is necessary to set up community composting projects and a city-wide collection service takes years to create,” Schendler said. “We’re looking to build relationships, not only with the city, and the various committees in the city, but to find disused or ‘brownfield’ sites to begin community composting projects. We can’t do that without the guidance and approval of the city.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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