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Trash Into Treasure

May 2014 | Nebraska | 0 comments

Compost

After the final bell rings, most high schoolers take off for an after school activity such as sports practice or debate. Senior Ben Rice, however, heads to the cafeteria to pick up a 55 gallon trash can full of that day’s food waste to take back to Prairieland Dairy, a dairy farm his family helps run.

The four families who own and operate Prairieland Dairy all share a passion for taking care of their cows, their land and their community. In addition to milking 1,600 cows, farming 600 acres and providing nutritious food for their neighbors, these dairy farmers also demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.

Prairieland Dairy implements many sustainable practices on their farm, and they seized another opportunity to support the environment when it came to composting. They knew that the manure their cows were producing could be put to good use, and about 80 percent of what goes into landfills today is actually compostable. Dan Rice, general manager of Prairieland Dairy, and his team also knew that compost could be created from just their cows’ manure, but they took it one step further. They wanted to increase their environmental impact by diverting unnecessary scraps from landfills and incorporating it into their compost. So they combined food and product waste from the community with their farm’s manure, and thus, Prairieland Gold — their own composting site — was created!

After the manure and the compostable trash are mixed together using the farm’s secret “ratio recipe,” it takes about six weeks for the trash to become the compost treasure.

Prairieland Gold has made this a community endeavor. They collect food waste from nearby public schools — including two cafeterias that divert 85 percent of their food waste to Prairieland Gold — grocery stores and food manufacturing companies. For example, three loads — or the equivalent of six tons — of popcorn waste are collected every week from a nearby ConAgra plant to incorporate into the compost mix. That’s the size of an adult elephant!

Initially, the Prairieland farmers used the compost on their own land and sold to their nearest neighbors. Word got out, though, and their composting business began to grow. They now sell to schools for use on sports fields, in bulk to bigger customers such as plant nurseries, as well as in smaller quantities for at-home use. The dairy farmers also are testing it in their own greenhouse to see what produce grows the best with the compost and how they might tweak the recipe to further increase effectiveness with other plants.

The families of Prairieland Dairy take pride in knowing they are giving back to the Earth that sustains their livelihood through diverting waste from the landfills, using the nutrient-rich compost on their farmland and providing compost for others in the community as well. They encourage those who aren’t currently involved to join in the sustainability fun as well by starting to recycle and seeing the difference compost can have on their own backyard gardens. In fact, the effect Prairieland Gold’s compost has on soil brings new meaning to the flowers of spring. Maybe the phrase should be, “April showers — and nutrient-rich compost — bring May flowers!”

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