K-State turns food scraps to compost

? Kansas State University has been involved in a pilot project that takes food waste from two dining halls, turns it into compost and uses that on a garden, with some of the vegetables that are grown turning up on students’ plates.

The project, which has been going on since the fall, stopped at the end of the spring semester. But organizers hope to see it continue and be expanded to include other eating areas on campus, as well as the food students leave on their plates.

The compost sites are at the College of Agriculture’s agronomy farm on the north side of the campus in Manhattan and the university’s student farm.

“We’ve got a cycle going here,” said Ben Champion, Kansas State’s director of sustainability and assistant professor of geography.

DeAnn Presley, extension specialist for environmental soil management and assistant professor of agronomy at Kansas State, said about 1,500 pounds of food waste were collected each week from the dining centers, except during the Christmas holiday break when most students and faculty weren’t on the campus.

At the student farm, the waste is covered with a layer of carbon-rich material, such as hay. When the waste has broken down to usable compost, it is used to help grow vegetables, fruit trees and mushrooms.

The food produced at the student farm is used in the dining halls and is sold at farmers’ markets and health food stores.

The food waste is mixed with the organic waste, such as leaves, brush from prunings, corn stalks, straw, seeds and grains, Presley said.

Part of the compost is used by researchers for erosion, field or greenhouse experiments.

Composting the food means it isn’t going to landfills and is providing rich nutrients for growing plants, Presley said.