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Naomi Wentworth
The Compost Group founder Naomi Wentworth. Courtesy photo
Columns Environment Food & Wine Lick the Plate

Lick the Plate: Composting made easy with The Compost Group

Once in a while I come across a business that is doing such great things, I feel compelled to do my part to help spread the word about them. And this one directly relates to the culinary world and what we do with our food scraps, so it’s even more exciting.

I discovered The Compost Group at the Leucadia Farmers Market and reached out to founder Naomi Wentworth to join me on the radio version of Lick the Plate, which made me even more enthused with their mission. Basically, through their service, they are bringing the power to both renters, homeowners, and restaurateurs to regeneratively recycle their food scraps back into soil.

Please read on to get all the details that are so eloquently explained by Naomi and if you would like to check out our 101KGB interview go to www.lick-the-plate.com.

LTP: First off, let’s get a basic description of The Compost Group’s mission “to make the world more fertile.”

Naomi: Our mission is not just to recycle organic waste, but to recycle it back into a really healthy living soil amendment that can revive depleted soil. We wanted to differentiate that about ourselves in our mission statement because it is common practice in California to call the anaerobic digestion of organic waste ‘recycling’ even though it creates lesser, single-use products — methane fuel and nitrogen pellets — from the process. While we are a recycling company, we actually create a better product from what we receive, and it can be used to regeneratively make the world more fertile.

LTP: Tell me about the technology you have at your facility in San Marcos that allows you to do this.

Naomi: We use in-vessel composting technology at our facility in San Marcos. This form of composting still uses the same biological process as composting in open-air but having a fully contained system ensures that no pests or rodents take over when we add new material and the smells more resemble food. Any decomposition odors are also contained — so the smells we do have are food-like for maybe an hour a day as we input into the system and then a deeply earthy, forest-like smell as we take the product out of the system to mature. This way, we don’t have neighbor complaints and can set up more mid-scale decentralized composting hubs throughout more urban areas. It also helps us expedite the composting process so we can handle a lot of material on a really small footprint as we can compost in a uniform way.

LTP: Explain to folks how you make it easy for them to compost.

Naomi: We felt a really strong need to give our community members an option to regeneratively recycle their food scraps back into soil instead of methane to power our hauler’s trucks (what will happen next year with Encinitas’ EDCO), or have their scraps go to landfill (what happens now and will continue to happen in most other cities in the County) where it putrefies and emits methane mostly to the atmosphere. So yes, we give the option for residents and businesses like restaurants, hotels, and corporate campuses an easy way to compost. We give homes a 4-gallon bucket to collect their kitchen scraps in, then collect it from their homes weekly to monthly depending on their needs. We give businesses 48-gallon rolling totes to collect their prep-kitchen, cafe, and plate scrapings waste and pick that up once per week to six days per week depending on their needs. It’s a really simple way to do a lot of good for the planet.

LTP: Who is this service offered to?

Naomi: It is offered to all! Renters & apartment dwellers love it because they cannot compost on their own with their space requirements. Homeowners love it as well because even if they do compost at home, we have been hearing that many people do not give enough attention to their compost pile and they are not able to get a good end-product or have lots of pest issues, so we just make it easier for them. Our weekly pickup program also has a soil giveback program. So twice per year at spring and fall planting, we gift a bag of finished compost to our weekly subscription members to amend their garden.

LTP: Most people would be surprised by what they can compost. Please elaborate on the possibilities.

Naomi: We can compost anything from nature! That is the beautiful system of natural decomposition — anything is going to break down given the right conditions. Since we can ensure the perfect conditions using our technology, we are able to take all food and paper waste — meat, bones, shells, fish scraps, vegetative scraps, fruit, nuts, seeds, garden waste, paper, napkins and cardboard. There is a common misconception about composting: that you can only compost really specific things, like only vegetative scraps. That may be true for a backyard setting where you are unsure if it reaches pathogen-eliminating temperatures and may have issues with pests or odors. But, in a more advanced commercial facility like ours, if it is from nature, it can go in because we don’t have those pest or low-temperature issues.

LTP: When people participate in your program, do they have access to the soil to purchase that you create from their compost?

Naomi: They do! We have a soil amendment giveback program to our weekly pickup customers. Twice a year in April and October we gift a bag of finished compost back to our weekly customers for use in their gardens. The rest of the year, or for our bi-monthly and monthly customers, they get discounts on purchasing bags of soil. Selling the soil amendment really allows us to survive as a business. It takes a lot of employee hours to do this type of work, and a large front-end investment to even make this sort of thing possible for our community, so we try to stay away from constantly fundraising and relying on all volunteers to run the operations by selling the end product.

LTP: You also work with area restaurants and other businesses. Who are some participating in North County that readers may be familiar with?

Naomi: We do! We started operating in February, so it was quite an interesting year to start up with restaurants. But our star restaurants stayed onboard through COVID, which include Las Olas, Nectarine Grove, GOODONYA, and the Four Seasons. It has been really great to work with these businesses because they have all been really interested in teaching their staff about the program and are just generally excited they finally have the option to compost.

LTP: How do residential and restaurant customers get involved?

Naomi: They can sign up through our website. Residential customers can sign up directly online for weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly service schedules. Restaurants and businesses can read about our service online and send us an email to get a quote. We typically let the businesses estimate what their pickup frequency should be, then we are really flexible to adjust the frequency. We are running a holiday promo right now where you can gift a fixed-term subscription to our residential service to a neighbor or friend.

Learn more and sign up at www.thecompostgroup.com