As you sit down to a holiday dinner this season…
here’s something wild to think about…some of the produce on
your plate, or even the wine in your glass may have been
produced using food scraps from restaurants. How? The
leftovers are collected and turned into compost, a natural
fertilizer that’s increasingly popular among wine grape
growers and organic farmers. Tamara Keith
As you sit down to a holiday dinner this season… here’s something wild to think about:
some of the produce on your plate, or even the wine in your glass may have been
produced using food scraps from restaurants. How? The leftovers are collected and
turned into compost, a natural fertilizer that’s increasingly popular among wine grape
growers and organic farmers. Tamara Keith reports:
The food goes from plates in upscale restaurants, to green waste bins picked up by a
recycling company. The leftovers are then trucked out a compost facility.
(sound of the big machines)
Here, at Jepson Prairie Organics, the waste is transformed from discernable food
to dark lush humus. Greg Pryor is general manager of the facility in Northern
“If you look closer it’s you’ll find fish, shellfish, there’s a leek right there,
Yard clippings and a little cardboard are mixed in for balance. It’s all ground up,
stuffed in large black bags, 200 feet long and 10 feet wide.
“Really about a week into the bag it starts to break down and it really loses its
After 30 days, the compost is removed from the bags, and continues to break down for
another month or so. As bacteria go to work on the food scraps and clippings, they
generate heat, so even on a hot day steam rises up from the rows of compost. Pryor
started in the trash business almost 15 years ago and he says it has come a long way.
“All of this used to go into a landfill and it just wasn’t right. And to me
the biggest benefit is that it’s putting materials back to a beneficial re-use,
The end product is marketed as “four course compost” to vineyards and organic
(Mexican music coming from a truck)
Just a few miles away at Eatwell Farm, workers are snipping and tying off bunches of
organic arugula. That peppery green was grown in soil bolstered by four-course
compost. Farmer Nigel Walker says he applies a heavy coat of compost after every
harvest, sometimes as much as three times a year.
“And we just always do that. I don’t even have to. Roberto’s our tractor driver.
even say ‘put compost on, Roberto.’ He just knows. We put compost on and then we
cultivate it in.”
In the past, Walker has used compost made from animal manure. It works fine, he says,
but he likes the idea this fertilizer comes from restaurants.
“It’s a great compost, we need a compost and we likes where it comes from, it’s pretty
This time of year, the makers of four-course compost make a lot of deliveries to
California wine country, home to some of the nation’s premier wines. Linda Hale is
field supervisor for Madrone Vineyard Management in Sonoma County. She and her
employees look after 400 acres of wine grapes for wineries like Ravenswood, Sabastiani
and BR Cohn.
Hale says they use compost between the rows, to prepare the land for winter.
“Right after you harvest, you come in, you prep the ground, you put your compost in,
seed it and let the vines go to sleep for the winter. And that’s just your good night
Hale says the compost improves the vigor of the vines. Healthy soil, makes for
plants, and healthy plants she says are better able to fend off pests and disease.
Hale says, it prices out the same as synthetic liquid fertilizers – the current
Plus, winemaker Tom Montgomery at the BR Cohn Winery says it’s kind of fun to think
about what might have gone into the compost.
“There’s probably a little filet in there, some veggie dishes, aso bucco…” (laughs)
Montgomery calls it fertilizer with pizzazz.
“I think it makes a difference to us. I’m not so sure that it makes a difference to
Other cities, even other countries are starting to pick up on the food-to-field
idea. Soon a
group from Toronto will be touring the compost facilities to see if they can
program in their city.
For the Environment Report, I’m Tamara Keith.