How Did The Maine Compost Team
and Maine Compost School Get Started?
Maine Compost Team—Formed in 1990 to help address a rapid rise in interest surrounding recycling of organics, the Maine Compost Team was developed to help coordinate information dissemination from several state agencies who were all dealing with composting issues at varying levels. Richard Verville, an Extension Professor, with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service, saw the value in having a “one-stop shopping” experience and reached out to the following state agencies: Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Department of Agriculture, and Maine State Planning Office (dismantled in 2012 and distributed among other State Departments), to see if there was interest in combining forces.
The “synergism” created by the grouping was soon realized and in late 1990, the Team initiated its first Demonstration Project—working with the cities of Waterville and Winslow to help them recycle collected leaf and yard debris. The success of the project developed a momentum that fueled the team on to conduct an additional nine demonstration projects; all of which were chronicled into educational videos. Not satisfied with their successes, the Team forged ahead and became a clearing-house for compost information, education and technical outreach.
In 2001, the team was tasked with finding a disposal methodology for potential mortalities from “Foot and Mouth Disease” outbreaks in the US. The team went to work researching a composting methodology that would effectively address this issue and protect Mainer’s and the environment. This effort was duplicated once again in 2004 with the threat of “Mad Cow Disease”, and again in 2006, with the threat of Infectious “Avian Influenza”. Over the years, the team has also spent a great deal of time focusing on educational outreach, establishing it’s Internationally renowned “Maine Compost School”, which to date, has graduated over 800 students representing most of the 50 US states and over 40 countries from around the world. Over the years, Team members have changed due to retirements, but mission of promoting composting as an essential waste management tool has remained unchanged, and likely will for the foreseeable future.
Maine Compost School—Founded In 1997, the Maine Compost School was formed to help address an industry need that seemed unfulfilled—simply put, people wanted to compost, but they didn’t have the knowledge base necessary to help them be successful at it. This became obvious to the Compost Team as they started using composting to solve waste management challenges. “It seemed that every demonstration project we worked on required some level of training to move the project along”, says Mark King, Director of the Maine Compost School and Compost Team Member representing Maine Department of Environmental Protection. King also states that during the early 90’s many folks tried to compost seafood residuals with very poor success rates due to lack of understanding of compost basics. “It just felt like something we needed to do”, king says. So in 1996, the Team began developing the curriculum for the first ever Maine Compost School.
True to Team form, each representative worked on classes that were germaine to their proclivities—Dr. Bill Seekins (Maine Department of Agriculture) developed classes on: Feedstocks, Pile Management, Recipe Development, Process Trouble-Shooting and Compost Quality—Mark King(Maine Department of Environmental Protection) developed classes focusing on Compost Facility Siting and Site Management, Compost Systems and Technologies—Geoff Hill (State Planning Office) developed classes on Business Partnering and Business Plans—and Richard Verville(University of Maine Cooperative Extension) developed classes on compost use, such as Disease Suppression with Compost Tea.
Other folks helped to develop specialty classes, and by June of 1997, the first official class was held at the University of Maine Witter Farm. The students experienced a 5-day combination of classroom lecture, outside exercises and field trips to local facility to help add real-world applications to their growing knowledge bases. The last day students were offered an exam to obtain a “Certificate of Technical Ability”. Little did the Team know, but soon demand for this certification would result in a lasting success of the program—which (as of June 2013) has graduated over 800 students from most of the 50 US states and over 40 countries from around the world.
The technical ability certification is accepted in all of the 50 US states. The demand for the program has also taken the school outside of its borders—traveling to Melbourne, Australia in 2000, North Carolina in 2001, and San Luis Obispo, California in 2012. The school sessions continue to fill weeks ahead of time. Based on increasing demands for compost education the Team expects to be giving programs for many years to come.