Maine: MOFGA's Common Ground Country Fair

Location(s): 
Unity, ME
Summary: 

The Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association (MOFGA) has been highly successful in reducing waste by composting organic material. Their annual three-day long Common Ground Country Fair requires all food vendors to use biodegradable food service ware. The organic discards are sorted and processed in a static windrow which is turned by a bucket tractor every two to three days. Since biodegradable utensils do not biodegrade as easily they are no longer required by fair rules to be made of biodegradable material and thus no longer composted. All other materials, except for stacked compostable cups, break down quite easily. As the windrows are being tested for temperature, they are manually screened for plastic and other non-compostable materials. The finished compost is used on MOFGA’s many gardens and orchards. Soon, the compost will even be tested for quality.

Products and Brands Composted: 

It is a rule for fair vendors to use compostable products when distributing food. These products are not all of a specific brand since the vendor's bring their own choice of compostable products.

  • Cups
  • Plates
  • Bowls
  • Napkins
  • Straws
  • Stirrers
  • Packaging
  • Any non-utensil food service ware
Collection System: 

The three-day long fair brings together tens of thousands of fairgoers, more than a thousand volunteers, and hundreds of exhibitors and vendors. The food vendors are required to use only biodegradable materials to distribute food, with the exception of knives, forks and spoons in their goal to be plastic-free. The disposal bins are set up so the fairgoers can separate compostable and recyclable materials. Compostable materials, such as biodegradable foodservice ware, paper, wood and food, are placed into a large bin. Recyclable materials, such as plastic, metal, and glass, are placed into a plastic bag. The bins and bags are brought to the compostables and recyclables sorting tent when full. Here a group of volunteers sort through the piles for contaminants. The compostable material is then pushed into a large pile that will be set as a long windrow once the fair is over. Animal manure, from cleaning out the barns after the fair, is also placed into the windrows.

There is also yearlong collection of materials from Unity College, the gardens and orchards, staff kitchen food and MOFGA’s educational events. Unity College brings approximately 15 gallons of food waste per weekday.

Compost Process: 

Managing the feedstock is a daunting task, especially in the Fair’s fast-paced environment for collection. It often takes a few days after the fair has ended to finish sorting the remaining material brought to the recycling and composting tent. Despite not knowing the exact composition of the feedstock going into the windrows, the carbon to nitrogen ratio is still balanced. Since the items did not arrive in bags, debagging and screening was not as big an issue.

The windrows are about 150 feet long by 10 feet wide and set by a bucket tractor. This tractor is also used to turn the piles which is about 2 to 3 time a week or about 5 times per 15 day period. The temperatures average about 150 degrees Fahrenheit and are measured daily. Although they no longer borrow a windrow turner, it takes only 1 hour to turn the pile, take temperature readings, and manually remove plastic that isn’t degrading in the pile.

Size of Operation: 

The MOFGA grounds span 250 acres, of which more than half is woodlands.
Therefore, about 100 acres can be used for composting, gardening and etc. The windrows are 150 ft long by 10 ft wide. A small stockpile with active compost usually sits about 12 feet wide and 10 feet high. The finished product averages about 100 cubic yards.

Dollars and Sense: 

The Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association does not sell their compost. It is used on their grounds, which contain two orchards, perennial gardens and vegetable gardens. Some of the residents who live there also pick up compost to use on their own personal gardens.

Challenges: 

Processing the massive amount of material in such a short time. The three days of the fair are very hectic and bring thousands of people that are constantly disposing compostable materials. It takes days after the fair to keep up with sorting the material brought to the recycling and composting tent and requires the volunteer force.

Sometimes compostable items did not compost, such as utensils. For this reason, they have been exempt from the “no plastics” rule. It was important to make sure cups did not go into the piles stacked since their newly thickened walls have difficulty composting. Single cups broke down more efficiently.

Using a bucket tractor requires more space than a windrow turner to move piles. Sometimes, it feels as if there is not enough space to maneuver with the current windrow pile. If able to afford it, a windrow turner is much more efficient.

Tips for Replication: 

Have an organized team for sorting and processing materials
Don’t put stacked compostable products into the pile

Contact: 

CJ Walke, Landscape Coordinator
MOFGA
(207) 568-4142