The Dirt on Smith’s Composting: The “What”

20 Feb

In an effort to educate ourselves and our community, CEEDS staff, interns, Sustainability Reps, and Green Team students have been looking into composting at Smith. We thought we would share what we’ve learned with you! This is the first part of a three part series titled, “The Dirt on Smith composting.” If you have questions or want more information please email Sarah Loomis,

For the past year I have worked at Smith, I’ve heard a great deal of talk about compost. The questions have ranged from the basic – what is compost? To the more involved questions of:  Why do we compost? Where do we compost?  What can we compost? These questions remind me of those long forgotten days in elementary school where we were instructed to “be like journalists” and include in our details the what, where, how, and why, for each story we penned. So, today I’m going to reach back to my elementary school days and tell you in simple terms about compost…


The “What”

Compost is best described as the product of decomposed organic matter. Given the correct environment (carbon: nitrogen ratio, oxygen, moisture level) bacteria work quickly to break down organic matter rendering it compost. Ideal compost is a blend of various materials including nitrogen rich waste like grass clippings, fruits, vegetables, and coffee grounds as well as carbon rich materials, like straw.

The “Why”

Any gardener or farmer will tell you the importance of compost.  But many of us who don’t grow our own food may ask, “Does where I put my uneaten lentil soup really matter that much?”  The answer  is,  yes.

When it comes to growing food, “Feed the soil not the plants,” is an especially important adage. In order for plants to grow successfully they require certain things- most of us are familiar with the list:  sunlight, air, water. But plants also require minerals, nutrients, and organic matter to grow successfully. Compost is extremely important to a garden bed because it holds in moisture and soluble minerals.  If you want your land to continue producing crops, you need to make sure your soil is fertile enough to support plant growth. Adding compost to your soil each season replenishes the organic matter that removed by previous crops and allows for continuing growth. To a farmer, throwing out food waste is akin to throwing away soil fertility because most food waste that is thrown out in the trash is transported (typically by CO2 emitting vehicles)  to landfills where it sits in an anaerobic environment and mixes with other refuse. In short, it becomes a wasted resource.


Take away messages:

Compost is the product of decomposed organic matter.

It is important because it replenishs soil fertility, allowing for sustained crop growth.

When food waste is thrown away, the minerals and nutrients it contains are effectively removed from the cycle of food production and become wasted resources.



Next in the compost series: the “Where” and the “How”… 

Thanks for reading,

Sarah Loomis,  CEEDS Administrative Assistant

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