By Meaghan Sands
In a recent Poly Post article, Cal Poly Pomona students were informed about the impacts, hazards and consequences of picking and taking fallen fruit from the orchards around campus. In that article, Valerie Mellano, chair of the Plant Sciences Department, spoke of a new initiative put in order to transform the fallen fruit into a “richer soil” by composting.
“The best thing to do with it is to dispose of it in a way that is beneficial, which would be putting it into compost and then using it back again as a resource,” said Mellano.
The aim of this initiative reaches far past the orchards with their fallen fruit. Its goal is to transform the large amounts of green waste CPP produces into nutritious compost that the campus can eventually use and sell.
Mellano states that this is not a new idea on campus, but it is the first time they have moved forward with a large scale composting project.
“I think this is the first time that we’ve done it, to my knowledge, on a larger scale to try and accommodate the waste material we generate on the farm,” said Mellano.
It is all part of a class called “On Farm Composting” started because a group of students expressed interest in learning about the basic biology of composting. The class began in winter quarter and is continuing on for spring. The class is led by Mellano and Emily Creegan, a graduate student pursuing her Masters of Agriculture.
Besides fruit, the class uses green wastes such as tree and grass clippings, straw-manure mixtures that come from the animal units and agricultural plant waste. The products are mixed together and aerated in a turner, watered and allowed to break down over a couple of months to about one half to a third of its original size. During this time, the compost piles can reach temperatures up to 150-160 degrees.
According to Mellano, this temperature is key, because not only does it aid in material breakdown, but it also kills microorganisms that may be present on things such as moldy fruit.
Before use, the compost will need to be checked for things such as weeds and nitrate levels.
Since the project is still in its pilot stage, Mellano is not sure just how much compost they will be able to produce throughout the year. She does, however, know that CPP produces more than enough green waste to supply a large amount of compost.
A feasibility study, conducted by Creegan, will give them a better idea as to what needs to be implemented to make this a successful program on campus.
The hope is to make this a continual program that will produce enough compost to be used on CPP land, used for student projects and to be sold at the Farm Store.
“It would be a really neat project. Something very worthwhile for us to have as a resource on campus,” said Mellano. “This is something that has traditionally not been a solid part of an agricultural operation and it should be because getting rid of [green waste] material is difficult and expensive and it’s something you can utilize right back on your farm.”
Once this gets underway, the sustainable benefits will trickle down, aiding other areas of the campus.
On the farming side, staff do what they can to eliminate green waste with measures such as breaking down fruit tree clippings.
“We try to take care of the composting…right there in the field,” said Daniel Hostetler, director of farming operations and plant science professor. “So if there’s residues left in the field, or we have the ability to spread a compost onto a field, yeah we’ll do it.”
The compost that Millano’s class will be producing can be tilled into the fields to provide nutrients for crops such as onions and zucchini. This, when paired with the mulch that is laid out over the soil, can foster a sustainable and successful growing space for other CPP crops.
The mulch, which is produced on campus by a tree clipping service, helps cut down on erosion and water use by providing a barrier between the moist nutrient rich soil and the harsh rays of the sun. It is also used to make agricultural areas more accessible by preventing mud.
Because CPP has large agricultural plots, which lead to more labor, they are not all good candidates for spreading mulch. Fields that cannot be mulched can still get an added boost of nutrients and protection from campus produced compost, which also saves the university money.
“That’s why I like Dr. Mellano’s project, because for me to have to buy compost and mulch costs me money,” said Hostetler. “I don’t have a source that doesn’t cost me money.”
According to Richard Farmer, manager of landscape and auto shop services, CPP’s landscaping services is also doing their part to become more sustainable by using a smart irrigation system, redoing landscaping around campus and putting in more water-wise plants.
The water-wise plants are used especially where there is no irrigation present and, since cuttings can regrow when transplanted, it also cuts down on the amount of plants they have to purchase.
“We harvest every year oncampus, pulling things and replanting them and a lot of those plants are ones that we stick in the ground, we water by hand once or twice and that’s it,” said Farmer. “They just grow naturally based on the rainfall that we get.”
Farmer says that the landscape on campus is also an outdoor classroom, and steps are taken to foster the best learning environment and maintain Kellogg’s legacy.
CPP is a school known for its agriculture and, unlike many California State Universities, it has a vast amount of land to irrigate and tend. Programs and classes such as On Farm Composting aid in CPP’s learn-by-doing philosophy and lead the campus towards greater sustainability.
Anneli Fogt/The Poly Post
Project will utilize green waste
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