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Composting has a long history since Marcus Porcius Cato mentioned it in his manual on running farm “De Agri Cultura” (On Agriculture) in the early Roman Empire in 160 BC. Traditionally people at that time piled organic materials until the next planting season. The term and concept of organic farming originally was introduced in 1920s by Sir Albert Howard in the United Kingdom based on his work with organic gardening at Indore, India. Basically, he was promoting the concept of management of a farm as a living unit or whole system. Before the development of synthesized fertilizers and pesticides, practices of crop rotation and fertilization with animal manures and legumes were the options available to most farmers to maintain crop productivity.

Indore ninety-day process of composting was found by Sir Albert Howard. He offered genuine help to his neighbors by demonstrating composting methods they could easily afford and use through layer by layer carbonaceous and nitrogenous materials with regularly turning to keep thermophile microorganisms thriving. What was truly revolutionary was Sir Howard’s finding the amount of nitrate nitrogen in the finished compost was higher than the total amount of nitrogen contained the materials that formed the heap. Composting in North America was developed by Jerome Rodale and his friends at the Rodale Organic Gardening Experimental Farm in 1940s.

For the beginning composting lovers, Cornell composting is the most comprehensive and simple guide for doing basic and up to date composting around the globe. Start from the science and engineering of composting (casual composters, background information, getting the right mix, composting experiments, compost engineering fundamentals), composting in schools (teacher’s page, compost quiz, composting indoors and outdoors, weird and unusual composting, frequently asked questions, glossary), and hundreds composting fact sheets. Their mission is: “Everything you ever wanted to know about composting, but were afraid to ask? Not quite, but we do hope we’ve assembled some useful information.”

The progress of composting around the globe is amazing but still cannot process all organic waste produced by human activities. The Cornell’s Composting can be used as a model of the large-scale composting. Each year Cornell University at Ithaca through the Farm Services composts about 4000 tons of organic waste annually into a quality compost originally from: 2700 tons of animal bedding and manure from research and teaching facilities. 300 tons of plants debris from campus greenhouses, orchards, and farms. 850 tons of food scraps and other organic waste from their All You Care to Eat dining rooms and their retail dining eateries. The rest is from other waste streams, such as building-specific compost collection programs and special events.

It was reported by Schwarz and Bonhotal (2018), in 2013 Cornell University Farm Services diverted about 6714 tons of organic waste to the compost facility. It was calculated the Cornell’s compost facility emitted 104.6 metric tons carbon equivalent (MTCE) and saved 201.4 MTCE through compost use for a total carbon footprint saving of 96.7 MTCE per year (carbon negative). This equates to 0.0154 MTCE per ton feedstock emitted 0.03 MCTE saved through compost use for a total carbon footprint saving of 0.0146 MTCE per ton fresh organic waste. These values are specific to this facility, but the calculations can be used by other compost facilities to calculate the carbon footprint of composting.

It’s a great pleasure to visit the compost facility of the Cornell University in Ithaca, New York this Winter and they always keep a warm welcome. The main goals of the visit is to do networking and forecasting that at least 10% of the compost facility and capacity should try to use vermiculture – vermicomposting to speed up the process and increase the quality of the finished product vermicompost or worm castings, also to produce protein from the worms biomass.

The photo above was taken at the compost facility nearby the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York last December 2019. Nothing to lose, composting – vermicomposting cooling the earth and warming the universe.

-Bintoro Gunadi