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Less waste, happier dirt

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Efforts are underway locally to reduce the amount of food waste going to the landfill
Matt Suhr, owner of Happy Dirt Veggie Patch, works on a compost pile at his three-acre vegetable garden in Phoenix. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Donated food waste is composted at Happy Dirt Veggie Patch in Phoenix. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Matt Suhr, owner of Happy Dirt Veggie Patch, says produce stickers are a major problem when composting food waste. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

More and more table scraps are being turned into compost for gardens in Jackson County.

Rogue Produce & Community Compost collects five-gallon buckets of scraps from up to 200 households every week and delivers them to Happy Dirt Veggie Patch in Phoenix for composting.

“We pretty much pick up anything but meat, fish or yard debris,” said Adam Holtey, who owns Rogue Produce with his wife, Stephanie.

He also doesn’t accept compostable food containers because they don’t break down fast enough.

The Holteys began Community Compost in 2011 after he heard about a similar program in Santa Cruz.

“I realized at that time we weren’t doing anything of that nature locally,” he said. “I figured it was worth a try.”

Holtey said he estimates the average amount picked up at each household is roughly three gallons, so he collects around 450 gallons or more a week for delivery to Happy Dirt Veggie Patch, providing about 75% of its fertilizer needs.

Food waste is left outside front doors or at the curb at locations from Ashland to Medford, as well as in Jacksonville.The cost to join the food waste program is $55 every three months, or about $4 a pickup.

Rogue Produce started with a little table in front of Shop’n Kart in Ashland, and the materials collected were then used at Eagle Mill Farm in Ashland.

Since then the business has expanded, and Rogue Produce now offers home delivery of local food products, including vegetables, grass fed beef and pork, eggs, sauerkraut, cheese and other products.

Home deliveries go to Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford, Central Point, Jacksonville, White City, Eagle Point, Shady Cove and Rogue River.

A delivery costs $12, an amount that is waived if you sign up for a $9.99 monthly plan or a $99 yearly plan.

For more information about either the food delivery or compost programs, go to https://rogueproduce.com or call 541-301-3426.

Items that can be picked up include all non-meat food scraps and leftovers, including fruit and vegetable peelings, pits, shells and pumpkins. Rice, pasta, bread, cereal, oats as well as egg and nut shells are acceptable, though coconut shells are not. Dairy products such as cheese and butter are picked up along with coffee grounds and filters, as well as teabags.

Items that aren’t allowed include meat, yard debris, flowers, wreaths, weeds, plants or soil. Paper products, other than teabags or coffee filters, aren’t allowed.

Coal, charcoal and over-the-counter or prescription drugs aren’t accepted.

Holtey said he would like to expand his customer base to help bring down the cost of the pick-up service.

Typically the limit on the number of gallons picked up is five, but Holtey said he’s got a few customers who provide up to 10 gallons.

The material is rapidly composted at Happy Dirt Veggie Patch. “I go back a week later and it looks completely different,” Holtey said.

Not only does the program help keep food waste out of the landfill, it helps grow vegetables.

Matt Suhr, who runs Happy Dirt Veggie Patch, said, “It’s great for me because it gets delivered.”

Over the past year, the amount of food waste has increased because Market of Choice also sends its waste to his farm.

He said he mixes the food scraps with leaves, grass clippings and other debris he collects from other sources and composts it.

He amends the soil with chicken manure and other materials as well.

“In general, the compost is great,” Suhr said.

Most trash collection services offer to recycle yard waste, but other efforts are underway to reduce waste.

Rogue to Go started a service in January 2020 to provide restaurants with food to-go containers that can be used again and again after they’re run through a commercial dishwasher.

Risa Buck, one of the founders of Rogue to Go, said other organizations around the country have created similar programs. Rogue to Go started with a $9,000 Oregon Department of Environmental Quality grant.

The idea is a restaurant customer pays a one-time fee of $10, so food gets delivered in the reusable and recyclable container.

The company started with five restaurants and now makes the containers available to 10 restaurants, eight of which are in Ashland, such as Burrito Republic and Pie + Vine, and two in Medford, Buttercloud and Common Block Brewing Company. More Medford restaurants are expected to join the program, and other cities such as Talent and Phoenix have shown interest.

The containers can be used anywhere from 100 to 300 times before they are recycled by the Oregon company that produces them, OZZI.

Buck said that with supply-chain issues for containers used by restaurants, she expects more demand for the OZZI O2GO containers.

Click here to read the 2022 edition of Our Valley.