Composting in the subarctic – Determining and sourcing organic materials

Along with having the right composter for the task,  the Fort Albany First Nation (FAFN) community needed to determine what organic materials would be added to the Actium Batch Compost Drum and where we could obtain these materials. There are two types of organic materials we wanted to hot compost – “greens” (C:N <30) and “browns” (C:N>30). This article shares what green and brown organic materials we add to the FAFN compost. For more information on why mixing green and brown organic materials is important for hot composting,  please scroll down to our March 3, 2020 post.

Fort Albany First Nation is a relatively small isolated community; it has a residing population of 900. The community is located in the far north of Ontario, along the Albany River and is within the Boreal forest. When community members of FAFN want local foods, they harvest from the land (i.e. hunting geese or moose, fishing, or picking berries). However, the diet of the majority of families in the community comprises mostly of imported foods. Other non-food types of organic materials are also imported to the community as well – such as paper products. Both local and imported materials were used to create compost in FAFN.

Sourcing green materials

The main green organic materials used in the FAFN compost are from locally hunted non-edible portions of Canadian geese, and imported fruit and vegetable wastes. Canadian geese are hunted in April and in late June. The geese are then prepped to be smoked for preservation or baked in an oven. Those who prep the geese put aside the head, wings, feet, innards and feathers to be picked up for hot composting. The Actium Batch Compost Drum was ideal for composting geese remnants as it is designed to decompose poultry deadstock safely. 

The imported vegetable and fruit wastes added to the composter were collected within the community from the grocery store, a convenience store, the school breakfast program, and the monthly occurring Farmer’s Market. We arranged an organic waste collection process with store and program managers.  This process entails providing each establishment with a large tote to fill with spoiled produce. Our compost program manager goes to each establishment regularly to pick up the totes. Before our compost program manager adds produce waste to the composter, they chop up large or whole items (such as melons, corn, carrots, or celery) to allow for faster decomposition. They also remove any foreign materials (i.e. plastic wrappings or rubber bands) to maintain compost quality.  The green materials are then added to the Actium Batch Compost Drum, along with brown materials. The drum door is then closed, and we rotate the drum two to three times to mix the newly added organic materials with the other decomposing materials. Afterwards, the empty totes are rinsed and returned to each establishment.

Sourcing brown materials

Brown materials used to create FAFN compost includes wood shavings, shredded paper and dried grass and leaves. We situated our Actium Batch Compost Drum in the local sawmill yard to make it convenient to add wood shavings while adding green organic wastes. The shredded paper is donated from the school, hospital, and Farmer’s Market.  The paper sourced from the Farmer’s Market is ideal as it is blank newsprint used to protect fruit and vegetables during transport to FAFN.  Similarly, to picking up green organic waste, the compost program manager goes to these establishments to pick up the paper waste. We collect dried grasses and leaves from the FAFN’s agroforestry community garden during our spring clean-up. 

Diversifying both green and brown materials is ideal as it combines materials with differing C:N ratios and various decomposition rates. We are interested in expanding our list of organic materials added to the compost, such as decomposing the non-edible portions of fish and food-grade cardboard. Before the FAFN compost program was in place, these organic materials – both local and imported – were destined for the landfill or were underutilized as a nutrient resource.  With the compost program in place, these organic materials are now utilized to make a local low-cost soil amendment to nourish gardens in FAFN. 

Photo Credit Greg Sutherland
Photo Credit Greg Sutherland
Photo Credit Greg Sutherland
Photo Credit Greg Sutherland