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Top Ten Episodes of Organic Gardener Podcast: replay of 143. DIRTRich Composting and Food Scrap Pickup | Alissa LaChance | Columbia Falls, MT
24th October 2016 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 01:24:15

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Don Rosenberg and I spoke a lot about healthy soil in your garden in episode 157. I thought replaying Alissa’s episode about using compost to make healthy soil might inspire people as well and complimented that interview really well. I’m pretty sure it’s the MOST downloaded episode of the Organic Gardener Podcast certainly in 2016. It’s from June of this year and already closing in on 2000 downloads! I have another great interview I did this weekend although it’s not edited yet that I think you will enjoy I’ll try to get posted next weekend! Thanks for listening!

Full show notes will be done and posted at the soon!! Thanks for your patience this spring as I try to keep the podcast going while working many many hours! But gotta work while the work is there!

Have a great day all you Green Future Growers!!!

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m 26 grew up in Whitefish MT, left traveled for a while after high school. I ended up deciding I want to go to school so I went to Missoula for an EVST degree.


UMT EVST Sustainable Agriculture Emphasis

started farming for about 7 years, sustainable ag, sector of the EVST degree. I moved back here right after my degree. I started this company with a partner, Rachel Gerber, she had the idea and I had the push foward and we started. We immediately got a contract with Xanterra the concessionaire of Glacier National Park right away.!

Wow! That’s great taht the people in charge of guests to Glacier National Park. What are they are in charge of when people come and stay at the lodge right?

So I kind of had to figured it out myself, they are a separate entity then the National Park Service, separate that has to run all the lodges and restaurants within Glacier National Park. They provide the services.

So tell us a little bit about the business. 


So right now the business model itself is based of the compost product, focused on perennials and annuals as I go. I’m still learning as I go but we have some pretty solid product coming out.

Food-scrap pick-up service

Also we wanted to provide a food scrap pick-up service really great rich source of compost to the blley as well as a food scrap pick up service because there is really no option for composting your food scraps unless you do it yourself and we live in a wildlife corridor so that can create problems.

So a food-scrap pick up? Waht does that entail you go to homes, commerical hospitals? Schools? etc?

So right now we offer residential and commercial pick-up service. WE really just have a couple of handfuls of residential customers.

We pick up once a week. I provide them with a 5 gallon bucket and compostable liner each week.

They do the cleaning out of the bucket, I pikc up their sraps and provide a new bio bag, residential… bio bag, depending on where they live 20-30$ a month.

Essentially we’re losing money on that, it’s just to provie and option for the community if they don’t have time to compost scraps and don’t want to throw it away.

the more, the sustenance, what provides us with the financial ability to survive as a business is  the commercial

food scrap

throughout the season, when I have the time,

to reach out to different restaurants. Hey, this is what we are doing

[provide with a  48 gallon or 32 gallon bin depending on how much  space thy have and how much food they produce

  • food scraps
  • each week we pick up
  • 3 times,
  • clean food bins
  • jsut do everything
  • make the service as simple as possible

transitions especially in this kind of area

more sustainable and relatively alternative here an option such as food scrap

you have to make it as easy as possible

it’s a really solid system

we take their food scraps 3 times a week and compost them!

I happen to be working up here at a golf course. I love the people my boss is super nice, and they have been letting me and one of the oteher cooks take home the recylcing compost, egg shells, lettuce… they were like we don’t care if you want to that’s great! I’ve been to toeh places where people were concerned about stealing food, but when I see the waste if someone hasn’t saved it when I get there…. to me it’s like throwing gold in the garbage on the golf course they are doing tons of landscaping and there are beds etc everywhere and because it’s a golf course and club house they don’t have a ton of business but it’s gonna pick up but they still already use a ton of compostable produce. On top of that we haul our garbage to Troy 65 miles away! So then do people in turn, the people you pick it up from, do they buy the compost or use it again?

That is the hope that they will evenetually…  Emmanual Lutheran and Buffalo Hills retirement communities…

Chef Nelson is awesome and really forward thinking and is hoping to be buying back our composts eventually and plant some kind of garden  to suplement their produce…

Did you see that new garden it’s like a community garden by Glacier Bank on the back road by FVCC right there by Buffalo Hills right by the Blue Cow and the back road… I just happened to see some guy planting… they might want your compost… So how did that go reaching out to chefs I’ve been thinking about that? Reading Curtis stone’s book and The Farm on the Roof and thinking about reaching out to chefs? 

You mean talking to chefs about the food pick up program…. IT’s been really mixed, it’s interesting a lot of people are excited about it! Some chefs are so on!

I learned multiple different things, they’re not in control of the finances so they have to go through people who are coming to

comes down to the bottom line and they say “no. ” Unless you have chefs who are really passionate about it

who have more say then other restaurants

that’s been initially uncomfortable part, so…

That’s why I asked… becasue it’s uncomforatble for me…

Initially the reaction was, “Oh! It’s a salesman” but I don’t see myself as a salesman, but I could see that questions coming up, at first it made me really uncomfortable the first t6 months my partner did it, but so I recently bought here out of the company

But now, I feel very confident and comfortable, I have had enough restaurants sign on, I know that they would be excited once it started going!

and their employees were happy and encouraged taht their employer was making this decision and wasn’t just about the bottom line, it’s encouraging for people because it’s always just their bosses as cheap as possible

they feel like they are doing something good, and that the food doesn’t stink and it’s not a huge inconvenience, because the system is really solid. It’s become easier for me that I am much more confident in my abilities and the system that we were providing. More confident in the product that we are producing. 

That part had me a little worried, we’re just about a year old, this was the first season where people were calling me for product.

I’m so proud of you, I think we agree all really nervous in the beginning, you’re a really nice forward thinking rockstar millenials I’m always talking about. Now tell us about the product!

I’m really following  Dr. Elaine Ingham taking a lot of her online courses

Soil Food Website and Community

I’m really trying to focus on spreading the word throughout the community and focusing on my product that’s based on the biology of the compost reacher then the chemical makeup.

So many generations in ag has focused more on that. I want to bring it back to the life in the soil, that’s what’s driving to grow our food in a more sustainable way.

We are selling perennial compost and annual compost.

Perennial Compost

  • 1/2 wood chips
  • food scraps
  • grass clippings
  • leaves
  • manure

The perennial’s generally like soil that is more fungal dominated. So some piles are much more wood chip based, those are the perennial piles. Probably the carbon material that we use is 1/2 wood chips in the perennial piles.

In the annual piles is 1/6 or a 1/7 wood chip, the rest of whats in the perennial piles is obviously

  • food scraps
  • grass clippings
  • leaves
  • manure

what is being brought to us from the community, and needs to be composted. So that is what else we offer to the people of Columbia Falls and thoroughout the Flathead Valley is a site to bring their waste material and organic scraps that they don’t want to throw into the landfill and don’t want to take the time to burn. We have a gravel pit set up that is used all constantly every day summer long.

  • landscapers
  • everyone drops off
  • grass clippings
  • garden cutback that they don’t want to throw away
  • hay

We use what ever we have the most of we try to make sure that what comes in has not … we put out there that we don’t’ want to use anything that has been treated with pesticides and herbicides but it’s hard to regulate so we use whatever. I also reach out to farmers and ranchers… and get old hay, whatever we’re not receiving … to supplement…

do you know landscapers who know who doesn’t use chemicals…

I’ve definitely talked to a lot of people… some people tat I drop off and I don’t know … most I have had a lot of contact with them…. I ask them to make sure that’s it’s been at least a year. A lot of landscapers they do keep track, they’re close with their clients and customers and they say for my own business, encouraging them to do that…

Is there anything I’m forgetting? Want to mention? Where are you getting this land?

We have a couple of investors, that’s what we should talk about is the the political aspect or this.

Perfect becasue today’s election day.

In Montana, throughout this process, it’s incredibly challenging to start a food scrap composting company, so it’s become somewhat of a political I dont’ watnt to call it a battle but a challenge IDK if other people have tried to do what we are doing or I’m doing I know none else is doing it is. If I had to grt a bank loan. If I did not have startup loan and private investors

not enough

too unpredictable for a bank

too unknown

as far as regulation

working with the DEQ has been an absolute nightmare

doing the best they can

doing their job

no category for something like this

the large composter permit

small composers permit

we’re both pretty smart intelligent women

signing up for a small composter’s permit

based off your size, how much your processing

what your accepting and located

we fall into that category

low cost just processing the application

we sent that tin originally

imagine us  trying to =get that into together

to get this contract with Xanterra

wanted this for the Valley

waited months to hear back form the DEQ,

impossible to get a hold of them, most of the time,

the small composters

move on


then about a month later,

hey, you’re not gonna fit into the small composter

essentially like applying to be a landfill

pay about $7k

mind you we are composting on 2 acres

municipal compositing

annual upwards of $2k

that’s make or break

I held out for as long as I could

you should not be putting this kind of

fiscal burden on

to be encouraging businesses like this to be flourishing


leaching if

people aren’t composting correctly

could effect people’s water supply

I met with Jon Tester

a while a go for  young entrepreneurs roundtable

this is a huge issue

that sounds’ crazy

said something along the lines of the regulation and the fees involved

should be along the same level of risk

imposed upon the community

just so everybody knows that’s a huge issue

very smart,


who wants to start something like this

doesn’t know if

still waiting and

trying to be as present

shift these guidelines

so that it’s more encouraging these operations

in a responsible way, people who know what they are going,

high nitrogen content

nitrogen leaking into the underground water system

any kind of phosphorous

I am only a person is doing something I’m passionate about