by David Goldstein

When curbside service makes it so easy to send yard clippings away for processing, and when you can easily buy compost or mulch as needed, why are many people so dedicated to do-it-yourself composting, keeping their materials on-site?

Many answers come from the 56 entrants in last week’s Ventura County Compost Cup competition, a project of the Ventura County Compost Network. The network includes over a dozen private companies and nonprofit organizations involved in local composting. 

For Laura Erlig and the staff at One Spark Academy in Thousand Oaks, composting provides an educational opportunity. One Spark Academy, which serves middle school-age homeschooled and independent study students, has maintained a garden for many years. When learning shifted online and outdoors, the program built an outdoor garden classroom at the Las Flores Community Garden. For students in “Seeds & Sprouts,” as the gardening class is called, composting remained a major focus of their studies. 

Following social distance protocols and wearing masks, students have met weekly at the garden to maintain vermicompost boxes and compost bins, while tending raised vegetable beds, a weeping mulberry tree, and other plants. The food they grew was then used in their cooking class, “Food Fascination.”

One Spark Academy won first place in the category for schools and community gardens. Prizes, which Erlig will use for the school garden, include mulch from Agromin or Peach Hill Soils, biochar from Blue Sky Biochar, castings from Organic Solution Soil Amendments and a $50 gift certificate to Green Thumb Nursery, which will be applied to trowels, hoop covers for seedlings and starter plants.

Education was also part of the reason why another Compost Cup winner, Maria Jones of Oxnard, started backyard composting three decades ago. Jones had just moved from a condominium to a house and was eager to start gardening. Encouraged by results she saw in Organic Gardeningmagazine, she thought composting would be a great way to help her children learn about “nature, planting and growing.” 

As Jones began composting, using one compost bin she got from the city of Oxnard and another bin given to her by a neighbor, her son, Colin, came home from Our Redeemer Preschool excited to tell her about the worm composting his teacher had started in his classroom. With a worm box from the city of Oxnard, students were composting their apple cores, banana peels, carrot tops and other food scraps. Colin was eager to also compost at home, and composting became a mother/son activity that has bonded the two ever since. 

Even after moving out, Colin, now 31 years old and a welder, still helps his mom. For winning the Compost Cup in the residential category, the Jones family will receive, among other prizes, a backpack with a built-in folding solar panel, capable of charging a cell phone and other electronic devices simultaneously, donated by of Ventura, a company marketing reusable business electronics.  

State Senate Bill 1383, of 2016, might give many more businesses or institutions a reason to try onsite composting. Over the next few years, California mandates will require any entity generating yard waste or food waste in sufficient amounts to use and pay for separate bins for compost collection. Businesses and institutions composting their material on site may qualify for a “de minimis exemption.” You can join the county’s stakeholder notification list to find out about upcoming organics ordinance changes and related information at

More information at:

David Goldstein, Environmental Resource Analyst with Ventura County Public Works Agency, may be reached at 805-658-4312 or