WASHINGTON — A state grant and a partnership between budding Midcoast businesses is bringing residential and commercial compost infrastructure to Knox County.

Work is underway right now to construct a compost facility on Bo Lait Farm in Washington where the farmers and Camden-based Scrapdogs Community Compost will team up to pick up food scraps from restaurants and private customers, and create compost to sell. Experts say the county has very few solutions for food scrap pickup and commercial compost.

The companies, supported by University of Maine faculty, were awarded a $17,750 grant from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in September.

Bo Lait owners Conor and Alexis MacDonald, New Hampshire and Maryland natives, respectively, moved to Maine and began their dairy farm in 2015. Naturally, working with cows left them with lots of manure, a useful product for composting. But, farm work and the birth of their 10-month old son left them with very little time to collect food scraps essential for creating good compost.

“We were a little bit unsure about all the time it would take to bring the scraps back here,” Alexis MacDonald said. “We do have a dump truck, but you can’t bring a baby in a dump truck.”

Scrapdogs Community Compost, a Camden-based startup from Davis Saltonstall and Tessa Rosenberry, was working on a smaller-scale solution by picking up residential food scraps and starting their own compost piles. The duo started their company in March with the simple goal to divert Midcoast food waste from landfills and incinerators.

“Things are going well,” Saltonstall said of the couple’s first few months. “We’re very excited about this partnership with Bo Lait because it allows us to expand our pickup services.

“Having a composting facility of this scale is essential for our business,” he added.

Before the grant, Saltonstall said, his company was strictly residential, picking up about 1,000-1,500 pounds of waste monthly. He said the large-scale commercial project with Bo Lait will give them the capacity to take in about 10,000 pounds of food waste a week.

For a fee, Scrapdogs gives customers a bucket to fill with food waste. The company retrieves it monthly, bi-weekly or weekly. The company also offers consulting and event services.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website said that composting enriches soil, reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and reduces harmful methane emissions from landfills. Compost is also sold commercially; Gorham Sand and Gravel sells compost for $24.25 per cubic yard.

Bo Lait and Scrapdogs were introduced through Travis Blackmer, an undergraduate coordinator in the financial economics department at the University of Maine. He began working with the farm in April to help develop a plan for a large-scale composting operation. Meanwhile, Scrapdogs were planning something similar while working part-time jobs, Blackmer said.

“Both of us thought we were the only people planning,” Blackmer said.

Blackmer, who essentially acts as a consultant for the project, said that he receives a small portion of a separate grant as compensation for work on the project, but is driven to work on the project by his passion for food waste diversion.

Alexis MacDonald said work is currently underway on the farm to construct a 75-foot-by-100-foot gravel pad where the compost will sit. Some of the funds from the grant will go toward larger collection containers for clients with higher volumes of waste and a piece of machinery to help turn the compost pile.

Alexis MacDonald said tending to the compost pile will likely just end up as another task at the farm.

“In terms of time, the time to manage the compost pile, we don’t really know,” she said. “The pad is going to be right behind one of our barns, it’s just going to become a part of the daily chores.

“The most time-consuming part would have been actually going and picking up the materials,” Alexis MacDonald added.

Blackmer said the business would likely run in two parts: Scrapdogs charges its usual fees for picking up food scraps and takes it to Bo Lait Farm, who would use a third-party seller to distribute the compost once it’s ready. He expects compost to be available for purchase in March, but said the administrative side of the business is not ironed out completely.

The state needs more “value-added products,” Blackmer said, to stimulate relatively quiet areas of the state in terms of industry.

“The Maine economy needs more value-added product, transforming (something) with no market into a product that is valued higher,” he said, citing turning potatoes in vodka. “If we can prove this model works (in Washington), there’s no reason this couldn’t work in (other communities in Maine).”

MDEP Environmental Specialist Mark King, the self-titled “compost guy” who is overseeing the awarding of some grants, said the Washington area was an underserved part of the state in terms of compost infrastructure, compared to the Interstate 95 corridor which is served better.

“When you head east or west (of Interstate 95), you see less and less of that,” King said. “(This project) is a really great opportunity.”

Mark Hutchinson, extension professor at the Knox and Lincoln County office of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said Knox County does not have any existing compost pickup service. He said the county is underserved even compared to Lincoln County, which offers food scrap collection at its Lincoln County Recycling Plant in Wiscasset.

According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, Knox County has 314 farms, which could potentially use that compost. Hutchinson said he saw the scale for clients being much smaller than large commercial farms.

“The scale that they are talking about is certainly going to be important in the home horticulture industry,” he said. “I see the end product being used more by landscapers and home use.”

King said the project could easily outgrow Bo Lait’s farm and their potential success could also spur other farms in Maine to take on community composting as a second source of income.

“They’re very young, ambitious; they’ve got a lot of promise,” King said. “If this project takes off … a lot of other farms that are trying to find a lifeline will give them impetus to start their own operation.”

Alexis MacDonald said grant funds would likely be available to them by the end of October. The farm is collecting material from local businesses, like Lincolnville’s Cellardoor Winery, on a small scale, ahead of funds being released.

Cellardoor’s Vineyard Manager Wyatt Philbrook said his company processes about 100 tons of grapes annually, yielding about 40 tons of waste. He said that can be used as compost, feed for animals, or used to make Grappa — an Italian brandy made with leftovers from wine-making.

“For the past year, we’ve been working with some composting companies … our outsourcing has gone as far as Portland,” he said. “If (Scrapdogs and Bo Lait) can be successful and get a good thing going in the area, they (will) have a really good niche.”

Philbrook said Cellardoor is in talks with the cooperative for a contract that pledges some of the winery’s waste to the project, but terms have not been fully ironed out. He said he could use some compost from the project, but the vineyard’s soil doesn’t require a lot of compost. He said the partnership will afford vineyard staff more time to deal with other issues.

“I do a lot of handling of the waste and it takes up time; it’s a lot to handle,” he said. “(This project) seems like a good, local, cost-effective … and the greenest solution.”

In a Sept. 24 press release, the MDEP announced that it awarded $88,000 to six projects. Other projects receiving funds include a pilot project for food scrap drop-off sites in Falmouth, a year-round composting operation at University of Maine at Presque Isle, a new reuse building at the Central Penobscot Solid Waste Facility in Corinth, a Maine Resource Recovery Association trial for recycling PVC building materials and an expansion of a composting program at Pleasant River Farms in Mason Township.

A second round of grants will be issued in “early 2019,” according to the release.

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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