Q&A: Bryan Alexander, Creator of Knox Composts

Alexander recently created Knox Composts, a new program that allows residents and small businesses in Knoxville to recycle their organic food scrap waste for a modest fee and get composted soil back in return.

Where did you get the idea?

From another compost program started up in the Boston area, called Bootstrap Compost. The Groundswell Collective, the Birdhouse Community Garden, and the Parkridge Garden are the gardens that I'm partnering with to do the composting. The idea is I'm leaving half of the finished compost to the gardens to utilize and the other half I'm giving back to my subscribers as part of the service.

What's your service area?

I'm saying a two- to three-mile radius around downtown to lessen the carbon footprint. I can also work with people a bit outside that area. But I don't think it's justified to drive out to Cedar Bluff or Farragut, for example—at least not right now in this manifestation of the program. Ideally, someone in Cedar Bluff and Farragut would start similar programs and work in their parts of town. I'm not trying to be the compost king of Knox County. Decentralization is what I'm looking for.

Anything strictly forbidden for compost?

With any small- to medium-scale compost pile, you can't compost meats of any sort, dairy products, grease and oily products. Meats and dairy can be contaminated with things like salmonella, e coli, and listeria, and the scale of the composting doesn't generate the high temperatures needed to kill all of these harmful bacterias always—it's kind of a "better on the safe side" mentality. Also, the no-nos just tend to attract more critters into the compost pile to disturb it, and the smells can be much worse from these materials as they decay.

Are there people who find it amusing or unbelievable that you're doing this?

Well, I suppose this isn't exactly what my parents had in mind when they sent me off to college, but I have their support nonetheless.

Do you ever retrieve it or deliver it by bike?

Ideally, I would be picking up everyones food scraps on bike, but with the hills and the spread-out nature of Knoxville, it's just not feasible for me personally right now. I think that creating nutrient-rich compost is definitely worth the gallon of gas I'll burn through in a week. Gasoline will not always be so cheap and plentiful, so I think it makes sense to build up the soil in urban environments—thus enabling stronger local food systems—while that's still an option.

Are there worms involved?

A bunch of red wiggler worms have found their way into the compost pile over at the Groundswell Collective, which is always a pleasant sight to see, for it is a good sign that the compost pile is healthy and happy. I'm currently not doing any vermi-composting involving larger amounts of worms and a more methodical approach, but I may try it at some point down the road.

Might you expand?

I hope we will. Right now, after about three months, we are at nine subscribers. To anyone reading: if you want to be lucky number 10—just give me a call or visit the website to sign up!

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