7 NYC-Based Organizations Providing Compost Education to New Yorkers of All Ages

by Leah Butz

New York City is home to enthusiastic composters, including many who are interested in learning more about the process of turning wasted food scraps into nutrient-rich soil. In 1993, the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) created the NYC Compost Project in an effort to expand residents’ knowledge of how to produce and use compost in their communities. 

The NYC Compost Project also offers the Master Composter Certificate Course, a compost education and outreach program that is “designed to build a citywide network of educators, advocates and community composters to support NYC Department of Sanitation composting initiatives.” The course requires 7 workshops, 2 field trips to composting sites, and 30  compost volunteer hours. Many of these requirements can be completed at the seven partner organizations involved in the NYC Compost Project listed  below.

Big Reuse

About: Big Reuse is a nonprofit dedicated to reducing waste of all kinds, from construction salvage to food scraps, through recycling and reuse. They operate two compost processing sites: one in Queensbridge underneath the Queensboro Bridge, and the other in Gowanus at the Gowanus Salt Lot. Furthermore, Big Reuse has also partnered with DSNY to conduct Curbside Composting outreach in order to encourage New Yorkers to sign up for the service.
Educational Materials Provided: Big Reuse offers tours of their two processing facilities several times a month and offers volunteer opportunities throughout the year that count toward the Master Composter Certificate Course.
Length: Volunteer activities and tours typically last about two to three hours.
How to access: Individuals can register for tours and volunteering on their Eventbrite.

Brooklyn Botanical Garden

About: The Brooklyn Botanical Garden (BBG), located adjacent to Prospect Park, provides compost education to individuals and groups as well as technical assistance to community groups that want to start and maintain composting operations. Their educational Composting Exhibit was created in 1993 with support from the DSNY to show New Yorkers the various tools and techniques available to people interested in starting composting.
Educational Materials Provided: BBG has an extensive collection of online how-to articles and other resources that are available at no cost  to individuals who want to learn more about composting. Additionally, BBG has a book titled Easy Compost, a guide focused on composting in an urban environment, that is available for purchase.
How to access: All of BBG’s composting resources can be found on their compost webpage.

Earth Matter

About: Earth Matter is a compost-focused nonprofit that was started in 2009. Their mission is to “reduce the organic waste misdirected into the garbage stream by encouraging neighbor participation and leadership in composting.” At their Compost Learning Center on Governors Island, they process more than a million pounds of food scraps each year that are sourced from all over New York City. They also process all the food and landscape waste produced on the island through a partnership with The Trust for Governors Island.
Educational Materials Provided: New Yorkers can attend various workshops and access volunteer opportunities at the Compost Learning Center as part of the Master Composter Certificate Course. Furthermore, every Sunday during the open season (May through October), individuals can drop in to the Compost Learning Center’s open hours to “learn about composting processes, help sort food scraps, visit our chickens, check out our backyard composting devices, and much, much more.” Earth Matter also hosts several apprenticeships/internships, including the Compost and Farm Apprenticeship, the Zero Waste Island Internship, and the Youth Internship; for New Yorkers to learn about composting and agriculture in an urban setting. All of these programs provide a certificate of completion.
Length: Earth Matter’s events and volunteer opportunities are anywhere from one to three hours long. The Compost and Farm Apprenticeship requires 150 hours for completion; the Zero Waste Island Internship requires 200 hours for completion; and the Youth Internship requires 100 hours for completion.
How to access: Interested composters can sign up for events and workshops on the Earth Matter webpage, but the Compost Learning Center’s Sunday open hours require no registration. New Yorkers can apply for the various apprenticeships/internships on the links linked above.

LES Ecology Center

About: Started in 1987, the LES Ecology Center has been a partner of the NYC Compost Project since 2004 and hosts many of the workshops required for the Master Composter Certificate Course at their Environmental Learning Center located near Seward Park. They also provide technical assistance to community composting efforts in NYC, including selling low-cost compost equipment, construction help, volunteer management, material sourcing, and conflict resolution. In partnership with GrowNYC, the LES Ecology Center also collects food scraps at the Union Square Greenmarket, the largest farmers’ market in the City. 
Educational Materials Provided: The LES Ecology Center hosts workshops and volunteer days  and provides educational workshops about other environmental topics. 
Length: Events typically are one to three hours long.
How to access: New Yorkers can sign up for workshops and volunteer opportunities on their Eventbrite website.

New York Botanical Garden

About: The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) in the Bronx supports composting efforts of all kinds, including the provision of technical assistance to Community Compost Sites in the Bronx, selling low-cost compost equipment to NYC residents, school employees, and businesses, and processing food scraps on-site with volunteers and Master Composters. 
Educational Materials Provided: NYBG hosts workshops and other events and provides volunteer opportunities that count toward the Master Composter Certificate Course. 
Length: Most compost events hosted at NYBG run for one to three hours. 
How to access: Every third Tuesday of the month, NYBG hosts a Compost Café where New Yorkers can ask composting questions of members of the NYC Compost Project. Upcoming compost workshops can be found on the NYBG’s events webpage

Queens Botanical Garden

About: The Queens Botanical Garden (QBG), located in Flushing, Queens, hosts composting educational events and programs, offers technical composting support to smaller-scale gardens and community composting efforts, and processes thousands of pounds of waste produced by Queens residents each month. Individuals and groups can volunteer with QBG’s composting program as part of the hours required for the Master Composter Certificate Course.
Educational Materials Provided: QBG has created many informational tip sheets about composting that are tailored to composters of all ability levels. These include instructions for how to create a composting structure, background information on the science of converting food scraps into soil, and tips about how best to use completed compost in one’s garden. QBG’s YouTube channel also has informational videos about managing and sustaining a composting system.
Length: Workshops and events about composting hosted by QBG are typically no longer than an hour. Volunteer shifts at QBG are two to three hours. 
How to access: All of QBG’s educational materials can be found on their Outreach and Education webpage. Composting events hosted by QBG are posted onto their events calendar.

Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

About: Located on Staten Island, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden offers many programs, workshops, and other resources to provide education and outreach about a wide array of topics, including a robust composting program, to New Yorkers of all ages. Residents can drop off food scraps at their Compost Demo Site any day of the week.
Educational Materials Provided: As one of the NYC Compost Project partners, Snug Harbor offers tours of their Compost Demo Site as well as volunteer opportunities that count toward the Master Composter Certificate. 
Length: Tours of the Compost Demo Site are one hour long, and volunteer opportunities typically are two to three hours long each.
How to access: See Snug Harbor’s Compost webpage for information about upcoming events, tours, and workshops.

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