by Rachel Leider ’15

The day I met Kalamazoo College Recycling Coordinator Rob Townsend was business as usual - garbage delivery to some grateful pigs. I felt lucky to observe! I caught up with Townsend behind Hicks Student Center one morning. He was loading five large garbage bins full of food waste from the K cafeteria onto the back of a pickup truck in preparation for the day’s compost trip.

After the bins were loaded, we headed about 10 miles and 20 minutes southeast of campus to Lake Village Homestead Farm Cooperative. The co-op makes good use of food waste generated in the Hicks cafeteria - waste that previously went straight down the garbage disposal or to an area landfill.

In spring of 2010, Facilities Management began a trial run program diverting cafeteria food waste into one of two uses: food for the pigs at Lake Village Farm or fodder for compost and, eventually, fertilizer. The purpose: create a more sustainable campus and community.

“The opportunity to work with Lake Village came up and we really wanted to see what it would take [to run the program],” said Associate Vice President of Facilities Management, Paul Manstrom. At the end of a trial run, FacMan and Lake Village Farm were happy with the new partnership and made plans to continue the program. Before the compost program started, “the food waste audits from the cafeteria indicated College operations yielded a ton of post-consumer compostable food waste,” said Manstrom.

In 2011 the total of pre-consumer (kitchen prep) waste and post-consumer waste (kitchen left-over) crept closer to two tons. Data collected spring term last year indicated that the cafeteria produced an average of 3,414 pounds of compostable food waste a week, most of which went to the landfill.

“We were struggling with waste minimization, “said Townsend, which complements recycling to make a topnotch sustainability equation. “We have made big improvement in waste minimization because of the Lake Village program,” Townsend added. He also cited a recently developed Windrows Program, which converts yard waste generated by the grounds crew into soil amendment at the Lillian Anderson Arboretum. According to Townsend, the soil amendment can be used for various gardening and grounds purposes back on campus. The Arboretum’s farm house will also host a community garden that models various types of composting procedures.

All cafeteria waste—excluding bones, plastic, and paper - makes its way into bins which students and Sodexho kitchen cooks fill quickly. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday when classes are in session Townsend or another staff member trucks the food waste to Lake Village.

When Townsend and I arrived at the farm, we headed for the pig pen. Hungry and quick studies, the pigs trailed behind the truck as Townsend drove to a clear spot in the pen to drop the apple cores,
Business as usual meant some very grateful pigs.
half-eaten waffles, and other porcine delicacies. Townsend distributed; the pigs indulged.

And everyone was content. The College minimizes its food waste; Lake Village Homestead Farm gains livestock food and compostable material, and the pigs get full.

The composting program has also made for a more efficient kitchen. “The garbage disposal is breaking down less and we have less drain problems,” said Manstrom.

Now that cafeteria food waste reduction is well underway, FacMan is beginning a new food waste reduction project aimed at the eight Living Learning Houses on campus, each one accommodating seven to eight students who normally cook their own meals.

“We are trying to get vermicomposting bins for all the Living Learning Houses,” said Townsend. Vermicomposting uses worms to consume the food waste, rather than pigs. It is low maintenance, can be done on a smaller scale, and is easier to execute on campus. The bins have been so popular that Townsend plans to create a large composting pit in the Grove itself that will be accessible to all departmental units (for their coffee grounds and food waste) as well as the Living Learning Houses.

“Together, these programs will make a significant impact on the College minimizing its waste,” said Townsend.

Photo – Pigs at the Lake Village Homestead Farm Cooperative pictured with their favorite K employee, Rob Townsend. (Photo by Rachel Leider)

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