Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy partners with city on compost project

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The city of Fort Thomas is partnering with the Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy on a unique program that seeks to benefit people throughout Northern Kentucky.

The compost program uses leaf waste to create mulch, which has been made available free of charge to homeowners and businesses.

The nonprofit is spearheading the project, working with city staff to create mulch from the city’s annual leaf waste collection program. It took four years to create the first batch of mulch, and this year it is ready for use.

There is enough available to meet the needs of homeowners and businesses throughout the city, said Chuck Keller, chairman of the conservancy board. In fact, he said, the project created so much mulch there is enough to share with those interested throughout Northern Kentucky.

An idea and a partnership

“Four years ago, we saw that the city was collecting all these leaves,” Keller said. “We wanted to know where they were going. And, we found they needed a place to put them. So, we have 22 acres down on River Road. And we said, well, let’s talk about moving this year to create this project.”

He noted that, while other cities have compost projects, most of these use food waste. He said he believes the Fort Thomas program is unique with its use of leaf waste collection to create mulch.

The Forest Conservancy’s mission is to keep the city green — “to educate, conserve and preserve our natural heritage,” Keller said. As part of that effort, the nonprofit has purchased properties around town, creating conservation easements and other efforts to protect the land. The organization also partners with local schools and other groups on green projects in the community.

“The city’s partnership with the Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy has been very positive,” said City Administrator Matt Kremer. “There are many projects that we coordinate with the FTFC and receive excellent suggestions and guidance from their team. It’s exciting that this program has matured to the point where the citizens will benefit from all the hard work that Fort Thomas Public Works has put in over the past four years.  I hope this compost benefits many citizens in Fort Thomas and Northern Kentucky and helps bring attention to natural ways to improve gardens and flower beds.” 

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Gathering information and leaves

Conservancy members worked with city staff to learn about how to spread the leaves out properly and do the other work necessary to turn wet soggy leaves into nutrient-rich compost. The group worked out contracts with the city and began receiving the leaves. It took four years. The results have been what one might call an “embarrassment of riches” — there’s a lot of compost.

The Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy dropped off 44 truckloads of mulch in Tower Park. There’s more where that came from, an estimated 1,000 yards. Photo provided | Chuck Keller FTFC

“Now it’s ready, and it’s time to bring it back,” Keller said. “And, we’re giving it away for free to everyone, not just in the city, but throughout Northern Kentucky…We would like it to go to residents, but if municipalities or landscapers need it, they can come get it. It’s fine with us. And we have more where that came from.

“We dropped off 44 truckloads of compost in Tower Park behind the Natural Start Preschool. And people have been up there taking it already. I just drove by earlier today. There was a fellow who pulled up in his truck, and he was getting a truckload. And yesterday I saw another fellow up there who was on his third truckload for his lawn at home.”

Making compost and learning more

The conservancy worked closely with city staff to figure out how to distribute the leaves to build the compost.

“What we did was we would go up with big machines and turn it, so it would aerate and get some water into it,” Keller said. “That would promote what’s called leaf rot. We did that so it would decay properly.”

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City crews have been working closely with the c onservancy on the site.

“The city has had a great partnership with the Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy for the placement of the city’s leaves,” said Kevin Barbian, director of General Services for the city. “The area provided allowed us to place leaves in a strategical manner that allows for proper rotation for composting. We hope to continue this relationship that will ultimately benefit our, not only our environment, but local agencies and residents.” 

Preparing for the future

Will the next batch take another four years? Keller said they are learning ways to make the process go faster. The plan is for the project to be ongoing and to have mulch available every year. For the next batch, it will depend on how much they have left over at the end of the season, whether they are able to mix it in with new leaves and what happens as a result, he said.

“We’re making plans to expand to move to a different part of the property so that we can compost it a little quicker than what we did this time. We learned a few things. We want to make what are called ‘wind rows’ that will lead it to decompose a little faster than what we’ve been using,” he said.

The result of all the effort has been well worth it, said Keller. The sheer volume of what is available is staggering. “We have a lot of mulch. Tim Mattingly, who oversees the project for the city, estimates we have about 1,000 yards of compost available, which is an enormous amount of product,” he said.

Early in November, Keller said he took a walk to take a look at the mulch. He found it was so rich there were little pumpkins and gourds growing out of the pile. He said he removed them from the mulch but left them in the park for the animals. When he returned the vegetables were gone. “It was a Thanksgiving feast for them.”

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The benefits of composting

According to a report by the environmental and health advocacy organization US PIRG Fund, the benefits of community composting programs are enumerable. The report listed out four main reasons communities should consider a program:

Composting helps to eliminate the use of landfills and trash incinerators. Organic material sent to landfills does not break down and much of it is burned along with other trash in incinerators. In fact, the report states that the volume of organic waste sent to landfills each year would fill a line of 18-wheelers stretching from New York to Los Angeles.

Compost can help create a robust and sustainable agricultural system. Compost creates nutrient-rich topsoil, something the world needs. According to the UN Foods and Agriculture Organization, one-third of the world’s topsoil is already degraded.

Compost helps tackle global warming. Landfills are the nation’s third largest source of methane, a dangerous and potent greenhouse gas.

Compost can replace synthetic chemical fertilizers. It’s better for the soil, less toxic for the environment and, frankly, easier on our pocketbooks.

Getting your mulch

The mulch is free to all. It is located in Tower Park behind the Natural Start Pre-school Building. Enter the River Road entrance for easiest access to the material.

It’s self-serve, so bring your shovel, buckets and truck, and take as much as you want. “There’s is no limit. Drive up to the piles, load up and take it home. Make as many visits as you like. The supply can be replenished,” Keller said.

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