Black Bear Tour 2022

HMNs Host Their Annual Tour of a Local Large Scale Composting Operation

Under a recent late afternoon, cloud-streaked, vivid blue sky, some 15 folks from around the Valley gathered at the compost facility in Crimora, run by Black Bear Composting, to learn how microbes are managed to turn waste into a valuable product. Owner/ operator Eric Walter walked us around the yard explaining how he controls natural processes to achieve this alchemy of sorts.

Hosted by HMN members and Harrisonburg’s Community Compost Drop-off program coordinators Adrie Voors and Art Fovargue, this annual offering for HMNs and friends allows us to share about the fun and magic of composting on the large scale provided at the Black Bear Composting facility.

We learned that the unassuming dark piles rising up around the yard are teeming with hard-working microbes enjoying a steady diet of carbon- and nitrogen-rich organic matter and oxygen. In the early stages of the composting process, their activity heats the piles up to 130-160°F which kills off organisms pathogenic to humans and seeds that would be problematic in the finished product. As the piles start to cool, other decomposers, including fungi and worms, move in to help complete the process.

With a focus on kitchen scraps and yard waste from households, schools, and businesses, Black Bear’s collection service is available to subscribers from Charlottesville to Harrisonburg. Charlottesville, which has tiered public trash collection fees that incentivize diversion, provides the bulk of Black Bear’s collections. From delivery of the raw materials by the array of Black Bear collection trucks, through an active aeration period, curing, and finally screening, the process takes roughly six months.

Thanks to HMN Kate Guenther, Watershed Administrator, Friends of the Middle River, our recent tour welcomed members of this Headwaters Chapter partner organization. They came with special appreciation of the fact that compost-amended soils have an amazing capacity to hold stormwater and filter out pollutants, thereby protecting the water quality of our streams. (Find a deeper dive into the water/compost relationship in soils from BioCycle HERE.)

A big thanks to Eric Walter for always making himself available for these inspiring learning opportunities!

– Adrie Voors, Cohort II, October 2022

Photo at top shows our tour group being led through the composting process at Black Bear Composting by owner/ operator Eric Walter, October 25, 2022.

Photos by Adrie