by David Goldstein

Over the next few years, the mandates of a California recycling law passed in 2016 will start to be enforced, requiring the recycling of yard clippings, food scraps and other organic waste.  Among other changes, most restaurants, businesses, schools, churches and government buildings will have new collection services to haul their organic discards to large compost facilities. 

Rather than bear the new costs of these requirements by paying for more collection, some will instead manage organics onsite. Those with enough land to set up composting and to feed food scraps to animals will be in the best position to save money by avoiding new charges from their refuse hauler and will benefit from the resulting compost and animal feed. 

Those interested in this opportunity should heed the examples set by some local boarding schools, summer camps, retreat centers and others that are already practicing onsite composting and feeding food scraps to animals. Perhaps the best example is set by the Thacher School in Ojai, a boarding school on 427 acres.

Ed Bennett, the school’s director of facilities, oversees a sophisticated compost system handling the food scraps of 250 live-in students, around the same number of full-time staff and campus residents, and many others regularly onsite. He and students also manage the droppings of over 130 horses which are part of the school’s equestrian program.

The school previously paid thousands of dollars per year to have horse manure hauled to a distant compost site, so its sophisticated compost system could be justified not just from an environmental perspective, but also from a financial one. An array of solar panels power pumps forcing air through holes in a concrete pad, aerating the horse manure, horse bedding and food scraps in long piles called windrows. Water is added by hoses. To keep away flies, finished compost covers piles, forming a biofilter. Motion-triggered jets of water keep away bears. Students on the school’s Environmental Action Committee also feed the school’s food scraps to two pigs and 24 chickens.

Use of chickens is one of the few similarities between the organics diversion strategy of Thacher and that used by Quail Springs Permaculture Farm in the northwest corner of Ventura County, inside the Los Padres National Forest. At Quail Springs, Brenton Kelly, the farm’s watershed stewardship and advocacy director, enlists the help of other staff and enjoys the volunteerism of workshop attendees who manage compost piles by hand. Rather than rely on forced aeration, they turn the compost by hand. To manage flies, they sow the piles with predatory insects, purchased from Rincon-Vitova Insectaries Inc. of Ventura. To divert wood, they use a wood-fired earthen structure with an iron drum for baking, and similar technology for heating shower water and an earthen bench in a living room during cold weather.

Chickens are also part of the strategy for food scrap management at the Brandeis Bardin Campus of American Jewish University, near Simi Valley, according to Adrian Breitfeld, American Jewish University’s vice president of finance and administration. At 2,800 acres, this site is so big it has its own zip code, and it hosts workshops, weekend retreats, a summer camp and other activities, drawing over 1,000 people at a time — so not all food scraps are recycled. Breitfeld notes, however, that the site’s three goats and 30 chickens can divert up to 20 pounds of food scraps per day.

Brandeis also manages nearly all yard clippings and tree trimmings onsite, as well as the droppings of 27 horses. Landscape workers use a chipper to turn the woody waste into mulch and spread the horse manure thinly in areas benefiting from the fertilization.

Those with less space have fewer options, but many local elementary schools use compost piles and worm boxes in classrooms and school gardens to turn small amounts of yard clippings and school lunch discards into soil amendment. Whether large or small, starting organics programs now will position organizations for savings when mandate enforcement begins.


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