Community Composting

Spring 2023: New Mexico Compost Coalition launches statewide Community Composting Pilot

The New Mexico Compost Coalition is a network of municipalities, non-profit organizations, researchers and agency representatives seeking to turn food waste into a beneficial resource through partnerships and cooperative approaches. The coalition is facilitated by New Mexico Healthy Soil and welcomes new members. If interested, please contact Isabelle Jenniches.

Problem Statement

Society can achieve many benefits by redirecting organic waste from landfills to compost systems. Composting organic materials mitigates climate change by lowering CO2 and CH4 emissions, reduces strain on landfills, and prevents water contamination from toxic leachate produced by the anaerobic breakdown of organic material. When applied, compost enhances plant growth, reduces stormwater runoff and soil erosion, and improves soil fertility, structure, and H20 retention. 

Despite the multiple benefits that composting brings, the practice is severely underutilized. According to the EPA, just 8.5% of municipal solid waste is composted, even though more than 50% of municipal waste in the U.S is compostable: 23% paper and cardboard, 22% food, and 12% yard trimmings. In New Mexico, low population density makes compost collection services economically unfeasible in most parts of the state, and even in the larger cities where these services are available, price barriers exclude low-income households. At the same time, home composting is obstructed by lack of space, concerns about pests and wildlife, and need for education about how to compost.

Proposed Solution

To make composting more accessible, the New Mexico Compost Coalition aims to fill the “missing middle” between home composting and municipal composting by establishing a replicable approach to arid-land community composting. In community composting systems, people don’t have to compost at their homes or pay for city-wide service, but instead drop food scraps off at managed sites in their own neighborhoods.

Cities including Washington, D.C. and Lancaster, PA, have rolled out community compost initiatives with great success. Community composting has not yet been tried in New Mexico, which is why we seek to model it through organizational partnerships with strong management, education, and advocacy capacities. Seven members of the New Mexico Compost Coalition have volunteered to host community composting bins locations across the state.

By the end of the project, building on the successes of the seven pilot sites throughout New Mexico, we intend to offer a viable, proven model for community composting that we can help existing and future partners replicate throughout the state, transforming the harms of the existing food waste management systems into environmental, social, health, and economic benefits.

Members of Culliton Park Co-op site in Lancaster, PA during work/social hour. Image credit Lancaster Compost Coop

The first set of community composting bins will be hosted at community gardens and educational centers across the state. Each of the host sites will engage communities through brief training sessions to show how the composting program works. Upon completion of the training, individuals can join the site’s compost cooperative free of charge. During regular workshops participants manage the bins under guidance of a local compost captain, process and apply finished compost and socialize. Each site self-determines whether to use the produced compost on-site, distribute the compost among participants—or even sell it for revenue.

Record-keeping and data collection at each site aims to quantify landfill diversion, greenhouse gas emissions reductions and carbon sequestration benefits.

Learn more about each site:

4920 Rio Grande Blvd NW, Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, NM 87107

The 25 acre Agri-Nature Center was created on the site of a former winery to preserve open space and maintain the Village of Los Rancho’s agricultural heritage through education, research, economic development, and community events. The Agri-Nature Center provides agricultural education for farmers and gardeners of all skill levels and ages and demonstrates best practices in regenerative agriculture.

The community compost bin will be placed in the new community garden area…

Contact Compost Captain Joshua O’Halloran if you’re interested in participating!

1700 Yale Blvd SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106

Loma Linda is home to a City of Albuquerque park, City community center, and community garden. The community center is also the headquarters of the City’s Therapeutic Recreation Program, which provides fully inclusive programs for youth and adults with disabilities; this program is integrated with the garden. In addition, students of the Mission Achievement and Success (MATS) charter school, located directly adjacent to the park, are involved in the community garden.

The neighborhood surrounding the Loma Linda site is an economically disadvantaged, underserved area with a SVI score of 0.84, indicating high vulnerability. The Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) score uses U.S. Census data to assess the overall social health of an area according to 15 social factors, including poverty, lack of vehicle access, and crowded housing. A SVI score of 1.0 indicates the highest social vulnerability.

1328 Edith St NE, Albuquerque, NM 87102

The Santa Barbara-Martineztown Community Garden is a new community garden being developed through a collaboration among the City of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation Department (PRD), the Santa Barbara-Martineztown Neighborhood Association (SBMNA), and Albuquerque Public Schools (APS). The garden is close to the City’s Santa Barbara Park, near a City community center and senior meal site, and adjacent to Albuquerque High School, providing opportunities for multi-generational engagement.

Located in one of Albuquerque’s oldest neighborhoods, the community garden site is on the historic Camino Real. The community composting program will be a first step towards developing the garden, drawing in community participation and providing a mechanism to build soil health on the site.

715 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM 87505

The Santa Fe Botanical Garden opened in 2013 with the mission to celebrate, cultivate and conserve the rich botanical heritage and biodiversity of our region.  The Garden is open to the public year round and we offer various educational lectures, workshops and conversations about gardening in an arid steppe climate, as well as fun and inspirational public events in the Garden setting.  Youth interns tend and harvest from our orchard fruit trees and vegetable garden, with produce donated to local food banks.

The Garden is on Museum Hill in Santa Fe, in the heart of a lovely residential neighborhood.  We will be working with garden volunteers and students to develop a program for composting our own site-generated garden debris and for using that compost to enhance the soils in our Garden, especially in the vegetable garden and in the restoration of our Pinon-Juniper Woodland.  Once we’ve developed our protocols around composting our own garden debris we hope to extend our composting program out to the museums across the street as well as to neighborhood residents.

Contact Compost Captain Linda Churchill if you’re interested in participating!

3229 Rodeo Road, Santa Fe, NM 87507

Contact Compost Captain Tom Dominguez if you’re interested in participating!

1809 El Paseo Rd, Las Cruces, NM 88001

Backyard Farms is a network of urban agriculture sites in Las Cruces, including a 1 ½ acre demonstration and workshop site in the core of Las Cruces and an urban greenhouse. Led by Rachael Ryan, a local farmer and Ph.D. candidate in biology, Backyard Farms regularly offers classes and workshops in urban agriculture, with an emphasis on working with disadvantaged students, veterans, and people with disabilities. Produce grown at the Backyard Farms sites goes to the local HIV Patient Food Pantry at First Christian Church, refugee families hosted at El Calvario United Methodist Church, and homeless families at the El Caldito Soup Kitchen. The gardens also provide fresh vegetables for students in the Las Cruces Public Schools. In partnership with the Dona Ana Soil and Water Conservation District, Backyard Farms serves as an urban agriculture demonstration and experimentation site through a National Association of Conservation Districts grant.

Contact Compost Captain Rachael Ryan if you’re interested in participating!