What is “composting” and “compost”?


“Composting” is the natural biological decomposition of organic materials by soil organisms into stable organic matter. “Compost” is the humus-rich material, which results from composting. It contributes nutrients and beneficial life to the soil, improves soil structure and helps the soil absorb and retain both nutrients and moisture. It increases microbial activity and beneficial organisms in the soil.


Composting occurs to some degree on every field and forest floor. It is s a process that is responsibly employed at tens of thousands of homes, gardens, businesses, ranches, farms and commercial and industrial facilities throughout British Columbia. There are currently successful, large- scale commercial composting facilities actively operating in North Kamloops, Merritt, Vernon, Kelowna, Richmond, Delta and Pitt Meadows.


Properly conducted and monitored, the composting process generates temperatures in excess of 55 degrees Celsius for extended periods, which has the effect of reducing and killing potential contaminants and pathogens. There are many different “types of composting”. They may be most readily distinguished by the composition of the material to be composted (the “feedstock”) and the method employed to turn that feedstock into mature compost.




What are the different types of composting?


There are three common composting methods identified by the BC Organic Matter Recycling Regulation:

  1. windrow (the process employed by Revolution Ranch)
  2. static aerated pile; and
  3. enclosed vessel.


The windrow method is the oldest; best understood and most tested form of composting in existence. It is the most flexible and consistently produces the best end product. It is optimally suited to the semi-arid conditions of the Revolution Ranch. The other two methods of composting – enclosed vessel and static aerated pile – are sub-optimal attempts at overcoming less than ideal composting environments, but are necessitated by wet environments such as the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and Vancouver Island.





Is composting regulated in British Columbia?


BC’s Organic Matter Recycling Regulation is as good as it gets when it comes to protecting the environment. Amongst many other requirements, it spells out how facilities must be designed, what materials can be composted, the different standards of compost (Class A compost – what we are producing – being the highest and safest), what laboratory testing must be regularly conducted and how Ministry of Environment enforces compliance. The most significant mandates are that (1) all composting must occur on an impermeable surface and (2) cleansing temperatures of 55 degrees C or greater must be maintained for at least 15 consecutive days.


Our decision to organically certify the Revolution Ranch imposes even higher standards on what we can bring in as feedstock and how we must responsibly process and apply it to our lands. We take every precaution to assure that we do not foul our own farm or undermine our valued organic certification process.



Is composting a proven technology?


The windrow composting process employed by Revolution Ranch is as old as farming itself.

“The composting industry is growing. In 1994 it was estimated there were 100 facilities across Canada composting 300,000metric tonnes of organic materials annually. In 1999, there were over 300 public and private sector composting operations processing over 1,650,000 metric tonnes and producing over 800,000 metric tonnes of compost for us (Composting Council of Canada CCoC). In 1998, there were 46 centralized composting facilities in British Columbia. The number of facilities is expected to increase (by comparison, in the same census, Alberta had 84 facilities, followed closely by Ontario with 71((CCoC)”


Bartlett, Karen, James Atwater and Yat Chow, School of Environmental Health, Dept. of Civil Engineering, UBC, Report to Workplace BC, January 2009, amended September 2009.



Why Compost in the Interior of British Columbia?


Much of BC’s southern interior has almost everything required for abundant food production, great weather and sufficient water. The main problem is that the soils aren’t that productive. Over the millennia, our great rivers drew much of the topsoil to the Coast and most of the nutrition left behind has been depleted growing crops then trucked in the same direction. Until now, nothing good has returned to reconstitute those soils and invigorate them – other than chemicals. This vicious cycle must end. Composting is a wonderful way to safely return what has been historically only been taken. Organic crops grown closer to where they are consumed also lessens the toll on other scarce resources. This takes things full circle: From the Earth, back to the Earth!


In addition, the semi-arid climate of the region is ideally suited to the windrow composting process and the larger parcels of land available allow for much better siting options.




What are the Revolution Ranch and Soil Farm?


Revolution Ranch and Soil Farm is ideally situated on less than 5 acres, deep within the approximately 700-acre Ranch. The composting facility itself occupies less than 1% of the total Ranch area.        The facility, and the Ranch itself, is surrounded by heavy, robust forest. Forest is an excellent bio-filter, which confines and disperses airborne particles and odour.


The facility sits on a carefully engineered and constructed, impermeable surface designed to meet and exceed the requirements of the BC   Organic Matter Recycling Regulation (OMRR), the OMRR Guidelines and industry best practices and contain any possible risk of contamination. The Facility is not visible from any private property, Indian Reserve or road. The “Suggested Minimum Composting Facility Buffer Zone Distances “stipulated by the OMRR Guidelines are all greatly exceeded in the siting of the Facility. For example, the nearest off-site residence is approximately 1,600 meters from the Facility. The MORR Guideline suggest distances of 400 to 1,000 meters to residential areas, which could be over flat, open terrain, as opposed to the forested, hilly terrain that borders the Soil Farm. The nearest town is more that 7 kms from the Farm.


The Revolution Ranch has more than adequate, multiple sources of water to support the proper, year-round operations of the Farm and the farming operations on it. In the extremely unlikely event that those sources should prove inadequate, we can supplement supply from our 120,000,000-liter per annum water source south of Hope, BC. Revolution Ranch is the furthest downstream user of the primary water source in the valley and therefore simply cannot deprive any other user of its bounty.


Additionally, we have incorporated 2,500,000 liters of incremental water storage (450,000 liters of tank storage and more than 2,100,000 liters of lined pond storage) as a standby. Perhaps most importantly, the Class A compost that will be applied to the Ranch fields has water-holding capacity six times greater that the indigenous soil, thereby dramatically reducing the ongoing agricultural need for the surface irrigation.






How Does the Soil Farm protect the Environment?


Here’s how our Farm works: (1) the composting process mandated By BC’s OMRR destroys all potential pathogens and contaminants save a very few that are readily identifiable by regular lab testing and bio-assays; (2) if such a pathogen or contaminant is identified, the affected feedstock or compost is disposed of in an approved landfill; and (3) bio aerosols and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) are work safe issues alone that are localized and, being well known, are easily managed by proper siting, equipment and operating protocols. They do not travel offsite. Clean compost is then responsibly applied to our fields to not only deliver badly needed nutrition, but also dramatically increase moisture retention and plant vigour and reducing further the need for irrigation. This is one of the main reasons that proper facility siting is so critical to successful composting.



Why do we need “Organic Soil Farming”?


Our planet is racing towards 8 billions citizens. The World’s base of farmland is shrinking every day from development and climate change. Farmers are growing older as few new ones follow in their parent’s footsteps. Oil prices continue to rise as oilfield depletions outpace new discoveries. The cost of chemical fertilizers climbs as farmers buy more and more to drive greater productivity out of what agricultural land remains. The result is a long-term harm to the soil and greater chemical pollution. Frankly, distant food sources will soon become simply too expensive. The “200 Mile Diet” is fast moving from desirous to necessary.


Diverting just five tonnes of organic material from a landfill for composting offsets the greenhouse gasses produced by one car for an entire year. Just seven tonnes so diverted offsets the emissions form an entire household for a year. For reference, 5 tonnes of organic material is about the size of a pick-up truck.



Should I be concerned about composting?


“Composting” is a generic term that applies to many different types of processes. Imagine using the word “boat” to encapsulate everything from a super-tanker to a canoe. Some countries, particularly in Europe, compost raw municipal solid waste to simply reduce its mass. The smaller residue is then disposed of in landfills. This horrible practice produces noxious gasses, heavy metal contamination and awful odours. “Garbage in – Garbage Out”. At the opposite end of the spectrum is what Revolution is undertaking using the most benign of inputs; source separated yard clippings and food scraps. That’s why we call what we’re doing “Organic Soil Farming”, to distinguish is from the others.


Many authors don’t do a very good job when it comes to clearly distinguishing the type of composting they’re writing about. Consequently. It’s easy to take snippets from articles about bad ones and in error paint good composting with a negative brush. It’s a technical and extensive topic that have misinterpreted far too often.




Why not just compost in the Regions where the organic feedstock is generated?


Simply put, it is just not practical and is not the right solution for several very fundamental reasons.


An environmental approach needs to look at the full life circle of the impacts of humans and gradually bring some balance back to our ecosystems. As long as the majority of people live in urban conglomerates and food is produced mainly outside of those areas, there will be a continual flow of organic matter and nutrients from the agricultural hinterland to those urban areas.


This leads to an excess of organic matter in the urban areas (and the consequent problem of how to deal with it) and to the loss of nutrients and organic matter from the agricultural fields. Historically, these problems have been dealt with by burying organic matter in landfills with the resulting environmental problems of leachate and methane gas pollution and by applying fertilizers to the agricultural land to make up for the organic losses.


The best solution is to return the organic matter to the agricultural land in the form of compost. This can either be done by composting materials in the urban areas and shipping the compost back to the agricultural land or by shipping the organic materials to be composted near the land on which they are to be applied. In British Columbia, the large population centres are mostly located in wet and restricted environments that are not conducive to composting. The only practical situation is to move the feedstock to the farms for processing. Revolution Ranch and Soil Farm is an example of this concept and should become a model for suture processes.




Isn’t trucking organic material bad for the environment?


At Revolution, we own and control our vehicle fleets. Those we employ are state of the art, low emission diesel trucks and as soon as the fuelling capability is available, they will be converted to zero-emission liquid natural gas vehicles.


It is important, however, to put this matter in proper perspective. Each round-trip diverts enough organic material from landfilling to offset the total greenhouse gas emissions generated by that truck for an entire year! This does not even take into consideration that the same material is presently being trucked for disposal in a landfill over the same or greater distances.


In addition, producing crops at the Revolution Ranch much closer to their point of consumption dramatically reduces the impact of trucking that same produce from California or further afield.