Friday, May 17, 2024

'Pirates' take food from ground to table and back again

Farmer Pirates Compost team

By Karli Metros

Cooking or finishing a meal often leads to a pile of scraps and a wish for better use than simply discarding them. If that’s the case for you, you might be intrigued to learn about Farmer Pirates Compost.

From its grassroots inception in 2012, Farmer Pirates emerged as a passion project among a group of urban farmers who needed high quality compost to use on their farms. Since then, this initiative has grown into a significant force of sustainability as a worker owned cooperative,

from Buffalo and beyond.

Perhaps you’ve noticed their scrap drop off points or their residential pick up buckets around in your neighborhoods.

Typically, if an item was once living or derived from one it is compostible, with a few exceptions in the case of Farmer Pirates: meat, bones, and oils. While contamination isn’t a major concern for them, such as plastics or those previously mentioned, they are committed to ensuring everyone remains aware of the distinction.

Jeana Franjoine is a worker owner who joined after running her own small scale food scrap collection service in Buffalo. She says in the Farmer Pirates Scrap It! Curbside programs currently serve approximately 1900 residents, with plans to extend to 2000 soon. Additionally, the bucket pick up service, available outside Buffalo, caters to around 185 residents.

Their primary commercial contributor is Tops, with 18 locations in Erie and Niagara County, yielding approximately 4 tons of scrap weekly. The leading individual contributor is the culinary team at the Buffalo State Student Union, providing 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of food waste per week during the semester. In this context “food waste” and “food scraps” are used interchangeably to refer to organic material from food that is used for composting.

The numbers are a testament to Farmer Pirate’s growing influence as well as the amount of compost being produced. The process requires patience but yields benefits. Bill Jackson began working with Farmer Pirates in 2021. Prior to joining he volunteered at Common Roots Urban Farm on Peckham Street, Buffalo where he met Terra Dumas and Josh Poodry, owners of the

farm and founders of the cooperative.

The benefits begin with the scraps reaching the compost site where the Farmer Pirates blend them with several cubic yards of horse bedding, including manure from horses, wood shavings, and straw. The aim is to create a pile with an ideal carbon-to-nitrogen ratio for the decomposing microorganisms. It’s crucial to thoroughly mix the initial pile to maintain

consistent conditions. Generally, food scraps serve as a ‘nitrogen source,’ requiring a balance with ample supply of carbon rich material such as the horse bedding. This initial mix is then

transferred to a larger, elongated cone shaped pile, known as a widrow. Over the next 12 months it will undergo multiple turnings Jackson describes.

A well-blended compost pile generates internal heat, insulating it from the cold. As this process continues in the brisk winters of Buffalo. During the first three to four months, microbial activity peaks, with the pile temperatures potentially exceeding 150 degrees fahrenheit. After this composting process stabilizes, converting the nitrogen into forms beneficial for the soil and plant life.

After the creation of their ‘Black Gold’ compost, distribution spans across Buffalo and its surrounding areas. While urban farms and community gardens benefit, a significant portion is dedicated to residential home gardens. Past recipients of their deliveries are 5 loaves Farm, Wilson Street Urban Farm, Grassroot Gardens WNY, and PUSH Buffalo.

In order for the Farmer Pirates to track the impact and success of their compost they use an app called Stopsuite. They are able to collect data to determine how much food scraps were diverted from landfills and turned into compost. From just this year they are on track to collect 1 million pounds of food scraps in 2024, Franjoine said.

Tim White

Tim White who is the newest employee to Farmer Pirates joined in the summer of 2023 when their house signed up for a scrap pick up service in 2018. White has since used Farmer Pirates compost for raised garden beds where they grow vegetables every year.

White says working for a cooperative has been a vastly different experience than working for a corporation, non profit, or a local business.

“All aspects and decisions about the business are completely transparent among the worker-owners. In my opinion, through cooperation and accountability amongst the

worker-owners, there is no other business I've been a part of that adheres so closely to its core values,” White said.