The FLX Composting Column: Composting 101

The Finger Lakes region is known as beautiful wine, food and farm country. But if you dig soil deep a very common issue here and globally is soil health becoming more and more compromised.
Photo: Heather Gilbert of Finger Lakes Compost. Credit: Erica Gee   

By Heather Gilbert of Finger Lakes Compost 

“Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children.” —Native American proverb

The Finger Lakes region is known as wine, food and farm country. It’s a beautiful thing we have growing. But if you dig soil deep a very common issue not only here but globally is soil health becoming more and more compromised. Some unsustainable farming practices which include the overuse of soil, continued same product harvest, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides have been adversely harming the soil’s natural biology. 

Without healthy soil, you cannot have a healthy ecosystem, healthy plant life, or a healthy body. It is true that many studies show fruits and vegetables grown decades ago can be much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today. The main culprit in this disturbing nutritional trend: soil depletion.

Now let’s talk food waste. Approximately 30 to 40% of the food produced in the United States goes uneaten, according to the FDA. Excess edible food and food scraps see their end life at a landfill, where their decomposition produces methane, a harmful greenhouse gas that is around 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, research shows.

Fortunately, there is something simple you can do to address these disturbing nutritional trends in soil depletion and food waste: composting. 

While you have probably heard of composting, you may be wondering where to start. 

Grow it Here, Eat it Here, Compost It Here, Repeat 

As a sustainable gardener and farmer in the Finger Lakes region for over 11 years, I’m well aware of soil issues. It wasn’t until my oldest daughter started kindergarten that I really noticed a food waste issue. In spring 2018 Finger Lakes Compost came to fruition as a subscription pick-up service that provides a convenient way for residents, schools, businesses and institutions to recycle food scraps and other compostable materials. This involves processing the compostable materials to provide a beautiful soil amendment that stays local, only available here in the Finger Lakes. Finger Lakes Compost is soul to soil, passionately keeping the Finger Lakes region clean, healthy, and beautiful.

So with my experience I hope to provide some simple steps and tips to help you start composting today! 

First, you might be wondering: Do you need a subscription pick-up service to collect your food waste or can you set aside a space outdoors that will not be bothersome to neighbors? 

The answer: You can use an enclosed composting vessel, wood/mesh bin, or if you have enough space you can just start by building a pile. Collect all things compostable and start layering. It’s important to keep a 3:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio for proper composting.  Carbon is your brown materials such as fall leaves, sawdust, woodchips, cardboard, and paper. Nitrogen is your green materials such as food waste, green grass clippings, and manure. 

Within just a few days, everything in this pile will be breaking down with millions of microbes, fungi, beneficial bacteria and worms doing all the hard work. The compost will start heating up. That’s when the true magic is happening. After a period of 60 or more days, depending on management intensity, you will have a soil-like material that is dark, nutrient dense and smells earthy. 

Finished compost is referred to by many as “black gold” because it is beneficial to restore nutrients, build soil integrity, provide weed control and improve water retention.

Composting is just one tool you can use to live a more sustainable life. You can also follow other items on the Environmental Protection Agency’s food recovery hierarchy which include: shop local; buy only what you need; purchase that funny, misshapen produce (it may cost less and it tastes so good); eat leftovers; use-it-all; store and preserve food properly; donate any good edible food; feed animals; and then compost anything that is left.

Heather Gilbert is the owner of Finger Lakes Compost LLC—a local homesteader humbly living with her small family. Heather strives on education and best practices to share with the community.  She has completed the US Composting Council certified accredited composting course. She is also a proud recipient of the 2019 USCC “food waste diversion outreach program of the year” award. Follow the fun @fingerlakescompost on Instagram and @flxscrapstogardens on Facebook. Keep up with the availability of the finished product, the services offered and other composting information at

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