By FRED PACE
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The husband-and-wife team of Chasten and Jaye Toler of Huntington are local gardeners and recyclers who were recently awarded the 2017 Bedrock Grant of $10,000 for their proposal to create an organic food waste hauling program that will turn food waste and yard scraps into nutrient-rich topsoil.
“We are thrilled to have been recognized and supported by The Bedrock Initiative for our business idea,” said Chasten Toler. “It still feels surreal, honestly. We just want to create a business that will sustain and help the environment, and to be selected the winners of this $10,000 is just incredible. The fact that we found out right before Christmas as well is the best gift we could have asked for.”
The couple’s business idea is to create Grassroots Organic Composting (GOC), a commercial composting system that provides pickup service from organizations with food waste.
Chasten Toler is the director of The Wild Ramp, a year-round indoor farmers market in Old Central City in Huntington’s west end, and his wife Jaye is the development director of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Tri-State.
“My wife and I are born and raised Appalachians who want to see our community prosper and grow,” Chasten Toler said. “This venture will both employ and educate the local community with the overall goal of improving the environment and growing local economy.”
He said after some research, the couple visited Danny’s Dumpsters, a similar initiative in Asheville, North Carolina.
“We were impressed with the impact Danny was able to achieve, with a fairly simple process and also employing 12 people,” he said. “The community buy-in has grown to the point that people request his composting bins at their festivals and weddings.”
Chasten Toler explained that the business secures food waste from local restaurants and other commercial sites such as hospitals, hotels, grocery stores, senior living facilities, school systems and festivals, as well as other events.
“We will provide participating locations with 64-gallon toters and compostable bags and pick-up as agreed upon in contract,” he said. “Food waste will be transported to our commercial composting facility, and turned into rich topsoil to be sold to farmers, landscapers and gardeners. Cost of service will be scaled based on weight and frequency of pick-ups.”
Chasten Toler said services would initially be offered to Huntington-area organizations, with plans to expand to the greater Tri-State region.
“With growth, we may also consider residential pick-up and drop-off,” Chasten said. “Two local businesses have already expressed desire to participate.”
A composting site has not been determined yet, he said.
In the United States, food waste is the second largest category of municipal solid waste sent to landfills, accounting for approximately 18 percent of the waste stream, according the United States Environmental Protection Agency. In 2010 alone, that 18 percent equated more than 34 million tons of wasted food generated, with only three percent of this diverted from landfills and incinerators to composting.
With Huntington’s many restaurants, hotels, hospitals and other organizations with food waste, the need for diverting organic waste is important, Chasten Toler said.
“We strive for a greener, more sustainable Huntington,” he said. “Our role is to reduce waste by diverting food scraps, landscape trim, and paper and other organics from landfills. We then turn it into high-quality topsoil for local agriculture and landscaping.”
Chasten Toler said they will partner with local governments, businesses, non-profits, and school systems to create hands-on training for students of all ages, and a green business model for a sustainable Tri-State area.
“There is no known competition in this market,” he said. “We would be the first providing this service and promoting commercial composting in the Tri-State area.”
The couple said the grant money will be used for start-up costs.
“The proposal includes what we’d like to do, not necessarily what actually will happen,” Chasten Toler said. “There is some work to do before we can begin operation, but this money will get the ball rolling so to speak.”
In addition, Grassroots Organic Composting includes an educational component, by providing public education on food waste, composting and their relationship to food security and environmental concerns.
“Grassroots Organic Composting will incorporate an educational component, by inviting partnership with area school districts,” Chasten Toler added. “It is our hope to partner with area school districts, and allow students to become part of this movement. Huntington recognizes a need for recycling, and we want to be part of that solution.”
Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter at @FredPaceHD.
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