Project Nancarrow: Kitchen Composters

February 14, 2020

We all know it: food waste is bad. According to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 30 per cent of all food produced for our consumption – around the world – is lost or wasted somewhere along the food supply chain. And here in the UK, 4.5 million tonnes of food waste was generated by homes in 2018, according to the government’s waste advisory body. That’s a staggering £14bn worth of food that could have been eaten, or £700 for an average family with children.

“If food waste was a country, it would be the world’s third biggest contributor to climate change,” said Trewin Restorick, chief executive of environmental charity Hubbub, to The Guardian.

Our Farm and Kitchen work hand in hand to ensure that waste is kept to an absolute minimum. We write menus with the seasons, harvest what we need when we need it, embrace flavour over uniformity, and not only operate a ‘nose to tail’ philosophy when it comes to our butchery – but seek to utilise the ‘fifth quarter’ in products we’re developing this year. Whilst we encourage our guests to lick their plates clean, with nearly 8,000 visitors a year, some food waste is inevitable. Although raw veg waste from our gardens can be fed to our pigs, our kitchen waste was being collected – which meant we were not only contributing to miles on the road, but also having to pay £24 a bin.  

So, in summer 2019, with the help of local organisation TEVI, we took the next step in our ongoing sustainability journey: the installation of an aerobic composting system. Made by Devon-based company Ridan, whose clients include The National Trust, Public Health England and EDF Energy, we’ve cemented our field-to-fork philosophy, preventing any food waste entering the supply chain, whilst boosting fertility at the same time.

“Hot composting happens much faster than regular garden composting, so by creating ideal conditions the mixture heats up naturally without using any power,” says Dan Welburn, Ridan’s co-founder, of the process behind our new composter. “This in turn removes lots of water and reduces the volume, so you quickly create a high grade, rich soil improver.

“Composting is a natural aerobic process performed by microbes,” he continues, “so as long as you look after them they will work hard for you. It’s also a carbon-neutral process, and the very best way to recycle food waste in a totally sustainable way – returning valuable nutrients to the soil.”

Ross, our kitchen assistant, kitchen garden assistant, farm assistant (all-round jack of all trades, in other words) is our newly-appointed Recycling General. “Our food waste is now collected in trugs, and throughout the day emptied into the composter,” he says. “We use an even ratio of food waste to wood chip – sourced from the Cornwall Association of Woodturners. The composter is then manually turned each time we load it, which aerates the contents, generating plenty of heat.

“It spends a couple of weeks in there before falling out, at which point it’s loaded into one of six maturation tanks where it sits for three to six months. Compost from the tanks is then used back over the veg gardens.”

It might be a more labour intensive process than having our food waste collected, but it means we can process our raw and cooked food waste on site, and use the end product – compost rich in microbes and fungi – to grow our vegetables. Ultimately, it all starts and ends on the farm, which not only helps us save money, but also reduces food miles and the pollution associated with it.

“Landfill is an environmental disaster whatever the materials being buried, but food waste in landfill is much, much worse, as it degrades without oxygen,” says Dan. “It putrefies, creating methane and other extremely damaging greenhouse gasses, as well as toxic leachate. Other options for food waste ‘disposal’ – such as bio digesters, incineration or centralised commercial composting – all involve more road transport. It’s far better to recycle and use the valuable compost on site.”

For more on Ridan, visit ridan.co.uk

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