Since 1975, The California Parks Company, TCPC, has been a provider of recreational, retail, hospitality and event management services for local, state and national parks throughout California. The Picnic People is a division of TCPC that provides concessionaire services for parks within California. The Ranch at Little Hills is an East Bay Regional Park serviced by The Picnic People that hosts company picnics, weddings, day camps and team-building activities.

The Ranch is open from April through October and during this season serves 2,000-3,000 people per week. A 40-yard dumpster used to be hauled weekly. The waste stream included food scraps, soiled paper, service ware and yard debris – commonly referred to as organics – in addition to other waste. As the Ranch grew its business it was apparent that they’d either have to increase their hauling contract services or reduce the amount of waste being hauled to the landfill.

Lori @ Little Hills Ranch

Lori @ Little Hills Ranch

Lori Caldwell is a waste diversion and organics consultant contracted by The Picnic People. A Master Composter and Bay-Friendly program instructor as well, The Ranch sought Lori’s expertise to reduce their waste stream. Lori found ways to assist The Ranch with county services for accepting household hazardous waste (HHW), office paper, plastic(s), electronics and printer cartridges along with the bottles and cardboard they had already been recycling.

Lori also provided them with a comprehensive approach to diverting organics. More than 40% of the dumpster consisted of organic material. Lori looked at organic-reduction options. She visited the Chabot College site in Hayward with Green Mountain Technologies representative, Ellen Hopkins, and saw how they operated the Tub to reduce organics on the campus and she was convinced that the Earth Tub by Green Mountain Technologies was the way to go.

Earth Tub Composter at Little Hills RanchThe Ranch purchased an Earth Tub in 2008 and contracted Lori to manage the Tub for 2-3 hours a week. Lori talked to a neighboring horse stable to access some of their used bedding to be used as a starter and periodically as a compost mixing material in the Tub. She also provided The Ranch with options for purchasing compostable service ware – plates, utensils and cups.

At the start of the business season Lori adds 60-90 gallons of the stable bedding to jumpstart the compost process. The Ranch staff collects the designated food and organics bins during the weekends and when Lori arrives each Monday, she dumps, mixes and manages the food scraps from the designated bins into the Tub.

Lori doesn’t have to add much water to keep it moist because the water composition of most food waste is 50-70%. It also sits in the shade of the park trees which reduces evaporation. So the compost generally has a moist composition that sometimes needs browns like the stable bedding from next door.

Lori dumps the food scraps into the Tub, turns on the auger, mixes in the new with the existing compos. She assesses the quality of the compost and adds browns as needed. Occasionally there may be leachate from the compost process if the food is really wet – like a lot of watermelon. To catch it, a 5-gallon bucket is plumbed to the Tub and sits just beneath the ground to collect it. The 2-3 gallons of leachate per week in that wet period is either tossed back into the Tub if it needs moisture or otherwise into the curing pile.

At the end of the season Lori harvests the compost out of the Tub and puts it into a yard bin to finish the curing process. At most it needs 2-3 months. And that’s about perfect for the compost to be used in the early spring.

The Ranch now composts most of its organics on-site. They have diverted 20 tons per year from the landfill off-setting their carbon footprint on hauling and methane off-gas caused by anaerobic landfill conditions. And they’ve saved over $2,000 in hauling costs each year. The Earth Tub has about paid for itself in the 4 years since they bought it.

The compost provides a rich soil amendment that keeps the lawn green, the plants healthy and overall reduces watering requirements. Healthy soils encourage plants to grow deeper roots that require less watering. When summer temperatures can reach 120F in this area, the water savings are significant.