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Since late December, all of the food waste from Annapurna Dining Hall —leftovers from veggie prep, leftover food in serving trays at the end of a meal, and diners’ uneaten food deposited in the colored bins — is being composted, amounting to about 720 lbs per day.

monica1The compost is used by the MIU Student Organic Farm, which grows vegetables year-round for sale to the MIU dining hall and to local customers.

“It’s a closed-loop system,” says project leader Monica Moscovici, in that the compost nurtures produce sold to the dining hall, a portion of which then again becomes compost.

While composting has been going on for some time, the move to 100% was made possible by the installation of a shed near the dining hall that enables food service staff to store the waste from dinner until it can be picked up the next morning.

The current location of the compost is at the Student Organic Farm fields east of the outdoor tennis courts on campus, but thanks to a $20,000 grant from Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources, in the spring a new compost facility will be built on the northwest corner of campus that will include a 90-foot hoop house.

monica2The new structure will control the moisture and control the freezing temperatures at night. “It will also provide shelter for the workers from blizzards, ice, and wind,” says the intrepid Ms. Moscovici, who currently braves the elements to attend to the compost with assistance from work-study students, volunteers, and farm manager Steve McLaskey.

In the past, MIU was paying a company in Eddyville to take away the food waste for composting, and then paying again for delivery of compost by the same company, said Ms. Moscovici, alumna of the sustainable living program and current Green Iowa AmeriCorps volunteer.

When her course on living soil visited the operation in Eddyville on a field trip, Ms. Moscovici came away with a vision to create a similar operation on campus. “When we visited it, I realized we could be doing a much better job and make organic compost with our organic food waste,” she said.

More information is available at Free tours are also available. Volunteers and donations are welcome.

Jim Karpen is a writer by trade, with a special focus on technology. He has a Ph.D. in English and studied the impact of the computerization of language. In addition to writing for iPhone Life magazine, he has also been writing a column about the Internet for the Iowa Source since 1994. He also edits and publishes the MIU Review.