Debbie’s Diary: Composters Convene at COMPOST2023 Conference - Part 2

Debbie’s Diary: Composters Convene at COMPOST2023 Conference - Part 2

In my previous blog, I gave an overview of the first two days of COMPOST2023. The event, hosted by the The US Composting Council in January, was an outstanding learning and networking experience. In Part 2, I'm excited to discuss the rest of the event, including the conference sessions at the Ontario Convention Center and Demo Day at One Stop Landscape Supply.

The highlight of the opening day of conference sessions was the keynote address by Kara Brewer Boyd, President of the Association of American Indian Farmers and a member of the Board of Directors for Kiss the Ground. Her husband, John Boyd Jr., is President of the National Black Farmers Association. Together, they run a 1600-acre farm in Virginia and advocate for civil rights and increased land ownership for minority farmers. The Boyds were featured in the The American Farm documentary series on the History Channel. According to Kara Brewer Boyd, Native American farms are on the rise, and the origins of regenerative agriculture are indigenous. By following regenerative agriculture practices, farmers can restore soil health. This is particularly important because the earth has lost a third of its arable land in the last 40 years as a result of erosion and pollution.

After the keynote, I wandered over to the Exhibit Hall, eager to check out the vendors and information tables. Major equipment vendors such as Komptech and Ecoverse showcased their massive composting machines, while product manufacturers offered samples of compostable bags and utensils. One of the biggest trends was biochar—a carbon-rich, charcoal-like substance created by burning organic material without oxygen. It was interesting to see that even pistachio shells can be used to produce this substance! When blended with compost, biochar enriches the soil by increasing its moisture retention, nutrient content, and microbial activity.

I've previously discussed Senate Bill 1383, the California legislation aimed at reducing organic waste disposal in landfills and increasing edible food recovery. Since it took effect in January 2022, local governments have started to implement the bill's regulations. During the “Compliance and Impacts” session, Jessica Toth, the Executive Director of Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, shared lessons from early SB 1383 adoption. Solana Center has worked with over 80 percent of the jurisdictions in San Diego, revealing uneven SB 1383 implementation across cities, including differences in curbside services, service pricing, staffing levels, education and outreach, and food rescue capabilities. There is also a need for procedural changes to enable more effective food donation.

The final presentation I attended on opening day was “Healthy Soils for Healthy Parks: Los Angeles Urban Carbon Farm at Griffith Park” by Lynn Fang, a well-known educator and researcher in composting systems and soil science. LA Compost recently established its first park-based compost site at Griffith Park, using food waste collected from local farmers market drop-offs.  Lynn's presentation highlighted a demonstration project of the Healthy Soils for Healthy Communities Initiative, led by TreePeople in partnership with LA Parks and Recreation, Kiss the Ground, and LA Compost, to promote regenerative park management. The study site was a flat, grassy area south of Crystal Springs, where individual plots were treated with mulch from Griffith Park, compost from LA Compost, or no amendment as a control. After 9 months, the researchers found that mulch and compost increased the activity of soil organisms and the percentage of soil organic carbon. 

The second day of the main conference started with a session titled “Community Composters–An Emerging Sector”. The session featured panelists representing organizations engaged in a range of community composting efforts. Gina Vollono shared insights on the uniqueness of the LA Compost sites, ranging from the Regional Compost Hub at Griffith Park to the Rebel Garden at Chuco's Justice Center, located in a parking lot. When developing a site, LA Compost considers not only its capacity but also assesses community interest and engagement. LA Compost also offers a Community Composting Toolkit on their website and runs a Compost Coaching Program.

Other panelists showed how technology can facilitate community composting. Tess Feigenbaum, the Cofounder and Operations Director at Epic Renewal in Rhode Island, announced plans to release a mobile application to help with compost site management, process tracking, data collection, and environmental impact reporting. Sashti Balasundaram, the Founder and CEO of WeRadiate, is leading the development of smart sensors for compost piles, which measure temperature and moisture with remote, real-time monitoring.

The final panelist to speak was Elinor Crescenzi, who shared data on the 31 Community Composting for Green Spaces (CCGS) sites in the Inland Empire. Despite a modest $224K budget for labor and infrastructure, these sites managed to divert about 510K lbs of food scraps and 3.7M lbs of organic material from landfills, resulting in emissions reductions equivalent to 908 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That's similar to taking 200 vehicles off the road for one year! In addition to the environmental impacts, the CCGS program also had significant community and social impacts, such as increasing healthy food access, community engagement and education, social support networks, and psychological well-being. Ninety percent of the sites are growing food in addition to making compost.

Another interesting session was “Compost Market Dynamics in California”. One of the speakers was Jeff Ziegenbein, the site manager of the largest indoor compost facility in North America, the Inland Empire Regional Composting Facility (IERCF). Located in Rancho Cucamonga, the facility produces over 200K cubic yards of compost annually from recycled wood and green waste, biosolids, and horse stable bedding using the Aerated Static Pile process. The composting area is completely enclosed to meet air quality regulations. The filtering system does such a good job at odor control I didn't even know this facility is literally in my backyard. The compost, marketed under the SoilPro brand, is used in a variety of applications, including landscaping, horticulture, turf management, agriculture, and roadways.

After attending the morning sessions, I returned to the Exhibit Hall for some Q&A with the finalists of the Emerging Composter Competition. The first place winner was Greg Mankowski of Evolve Pet Composting Services and Consultation in Michigan. His business is very timely, as more and more states, including California, are passing laws to allow human composting. Second place was Justin Brann of  Crystal Coast Compost in North Carolina, who composts food waste from many sources, including residences, businesses, farmers markets, and events. Third place was Jameson Meyst of Juicycles, who collects unpicked fruit from San Diego orchards, juices it onsite, and distributes juice and fruit popsicles to the community while composting the remaining waste.

Michael Martinez, the Founder and Executive Director of LA Compost, delivered an inspiring closing keynote speech. Despite recovering from ankle surgery, he showed up full of energy and passion. Michael is a legend in the world of community composting! LA Compost started ten years ago as a small group of family and friends collecting organic waste on bicycles and has since grown into a decentralized network of over 40 compost hubs. The organization's vision is to connect the people of LA to the soil and each other. Michael believes that composting can nourish not only the soil but also the soul.

My favorite day of COMPOST2023 was Demo Day, which took place at One Stop Landscaping Supply in Redlands. The place is huge, making it the perfect setting for demonstrations of large-scale composting equipment. As a volunteer, my day started early to direct traffic to the parking area and hand out safety gear to the attendees. 

Over 20 vendors transported their equipment to the site for the event. Each group of machines—screeners, grinders and shredders, and windrow turners—ran at designated times so the attendees could compare their capabilities. Between demonstrations, participants had the chance to connect with vendors and learn more about their products. I took advantage of this time to climb up on one of the grinders and explore its inner workings.

Despite the loud noise of the equipment, the wild burros grazing around the parking lot seemed unfazed. Having only heard about herds of burros roaming San Timoteo Canyon, I was thrilled to see them up close. Although they were quite shy and wandered away when approached, many drivers stopped to snap some photos before heading out.

If this blog has piqued your interest in COMPOST2023, you can find the recordings at Compost University on the US Composting Council website. I'm already looking forward to next year's conference at the Ocean Center Convention Center in Dayton Beach, Florida from February 6th to 9th. The theme of COMPOST2024 is “Making Waves”, which is fitting given the impact composting is sure to have for years to come.

If you want to learn more about composting, check out the videos on our UCCE San Bernardino YouTube channel or contact the Master Gardener Helpline at or (909) 387-2182.

Have you enjoyed reading this blog? Do you have questions? Need help with school gardens or environmental education? Feel free to contact me at I look forward to hearing from you.


By Deborah Schnur
Author - Environmental Education Coordinator

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