Five years ago, Philadelphia started a new program that would give residents the chance to sort, shift and transform organic waste into compost. Based on similar initiatives in cities like Washington, D.C., the community composting network was designed to provide select community gardens, urban farms and schools with the structures and tools to break down old leaves and kitchen scraps. After receiving nearly two dozen applications, park officials selected 13 sites for “cohort one,” the first class of community composters, and began training.

Then, the pandemic hit. As COVID-19 spread across the city and drove residents indoors, the bins were placed on the backburner. The sites slowly came online later in 2020 and early 2021 as the worst of the outbreak subsided. Some setbacks arose. Rats invaded the compost heaps, volunteers got burnt out and one site left the network amid financial and labor crises. But now, cohort one has been up and running for years — and it’s ready to help train the next generation.

“We are gearing up to release a new application to all residents across the city to fill in 12 slots that we have,” Ash Richards, director of urban agriculture for Parks & Recreation, said. “The hope is to have it out by the summer. And the hope is a strong, bold hope.” After so many starts and stops, Richards is working hard to manage expectations. The network, they said, is really a small-scale operation compared to the city’s other composting initiatives. Parks & Recreation more recently entered a partnership with Bennett Compost, one of the city’s two major private collectors, to compost food scraps from Philadelphia rec centers.

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Author: Kristin Hunt, Philly Voice
Image: Thom Carroll, Philly Voice