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PFC—Rochester's compost program begins

The number of compost programs has increased dramatically in the United States in recent years. In the period between 2009 and 2012, the number of community composting programs doubled. In 2012 there were 150 community programs in the U.S. Most are in California, followed by Washington, with Minnesota a close third. Residential composting (where the city does curbside pickup of kitchen scraps) started in the Twin Cities in 2013. Commercial and retail composting however, still remains the exception to the norm.

This spring, People’s Food Co-op of Rochester is joining others in the State to pioneer a change in the status quo. Many items that formerly went into trash receptacles will instead be composted, including food scraps, paper products, and some food services containers, among other items. Staff will be available to help answer any questions customers may have.

Composting is a natural fit for a food store. Jared Hammonds, PFC produce department assistant manager, estimates that around 70 pounds of vegetable material is thrown out each day from his department. As any gardener knows, today’s lettuce trimmings are next season’s black gold.

In many ways, this project has been a long time in the making. Brad Smith, member service and outreach manager, has been working for over a year with a coalition of Olmsted County organizations, the University of Minnesota Extension, and others through a non-profit called Growing Home to bring the program to fruition. “Plans have been under way for a while, but the hang up has been finding a hauler.”

Seeing an interest in the market, Waste Management Corporation (WMC), People’s current waste hauler, has agreed to work with a regional compost company, Full Circle Organics, to transport and process PFC’s compostable material. People’s will be installing a smaller trash dumpster in the store’s refuse area. The current larger trash bin and compactor will now be used for compost.

Andy Hansen, vice president of business operations for Full Circle Organics, Tom Borell, PFC facilities manager, and Brad Smith have conducted several audits of the Co-op, estimating the number of compost receptacles required and what might be compostable in the store. Andy expects up to 70% or more of what we currently term “waste” could be converted to compost—and made ready for use by gardeners and farmers to grow more food. Minnesota’s Department of Transportation also has uses for compost in its projects.

The process

As Andy describes it, once WMC hauls our compostable material away, it’s taken to a facility in Kasson, Minnesota. From there, Full Circle transfers it to their composting facility in the town of Good Thunder near Mankato, where the composting takes place. Full Circle mixes the compostable material with leaves and grass and piles it in windrows.

At the scale at which Full Circle works, they don’t have to work in layers of green and brown compost material—which home gardeners often have to manage. The heat generated by this much material undergoing bacterial decomposition is high enough that bones and paper are not a problem for Full Circle’s operation.

The compost takes very little treatment; it’s turned periodically, depending on the temperature and moisture content of the material, and in eight to twelve months, the compost is done and ready to be used by farmers and gardeners to fertilize farm fields and gardens.


Andy finds that People’s has been great to work with so far, “because you’re good on education. Staff and customer, the key to a successful composting program is education.” Brad Smith and Tom Borell have been diligently training PFC staff in the new procedures. PFC—Rochester will have three receptacles in every location where there are currently only trash, or trash and recycling bins.

The transition should be transparent and prove to be a great way to return useful nutrients to the food cycle. As Andy says, “We’re trying to keep it full circle and out of the landfill.”

Can PFC in La Crosse compost too? We would love to! Unfortunately the infrastructure for a commercial composting facility doesn't exist in La Crosse County yet. It will take many local businesses, civic leaders and citizens working together to create the demand. PFC hopes by demonstrating the benefits in our Rochester store we can start a movement toward commercial composting on the La Crosse side of the river too.


Compost Basics

Hey, PFC—Rochester shoppers! Here is a short guide to compostable vs. noncompostable items. Our compost bins in the store will come with explanatory signage, but if you have questions regarding compostables, please contact a People’s Food Co-op staff member—or you may email our compost partners at Full Circle at


Accepted items

• All food scraps. Including fruit and vegetable trimmings,
meat, poultry, bones, seafood, shellfish, pasta, breads, dairy, nuts and shells, eggs and eggshells, coffee and tea grounds and filters.
• Packaging. Soiled paper products, including paper cups, plates, napkins, and waxed paper.

Non-accepted items

• Items made from plastic. Including bags, wraps, cups and food-service containers, flatware, and styrofoam.
• Items made from glass
• Items made from metal
• Electronics and hazardous materials