Moosewood Restaurant and Cayuga Compost find composting mutually beneficial

May 04, 2016 No Comments by

by Will Uhl

Decades ago, composting at Moosewood was a messy operation. Ned Asta, one of the co-owners, said she would scrape the dishes into tofu buckets, which farmers would then pick up for farm animal feed. Asta, along with other employees would draw straws to see who would have to clean the compost’s grease trap at the end of the day. Since then, composting has come a long way.

Moosewood Restaurant has partnered with local Ithacan businesses to compost its food waste since 1973, and not only for the sake of the environment. Composting has benefitted both Moosewood as well as the local companies who receive their leftover scraps . Partnering at first with local farmers, Moosewood now works with Cayuga Compost to collect, process and redistribute their leftovers.

For Moosewood co-owner Nancy Lazarus, composting has been a longstanding part of the restaurant’s history.

“We’ve done it so long, it’s second nature,” she said.

Compost has been a big enough part of Moosewood that the 1992 Moosewood combination cookbook and gardening book The Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden covered different aspects of composting, with sections on proper compost maintenance, composition and usage.

Composting is also more convenient because of Moosewood’s ingredients.

“The cooking we do is largely fresh produce, so there’s a lot of waste. It’s not like restaurants who are using frozen packages of vegetables,” said Lazarus.

Furthermore, the vegetarian courses listed on the menu are especially well-suited for composting — composting meat attracts pests.

Cayuga Compost works with Moosewood as well as a number of restaurants and grocery stores in Ithaca, such as the local GreenStar, which goes through roughly 10, 90-pound compost containers a week.

“[Moosewood employees] place their food scraps, paper towels, paper napkins, into these containers. We come to their facility one time per week, take the full ones, and leave the empty ones,” said Bobby Seymour, operations & marketing manager at Cayuga Compost. Once it reaches their facilities, the scraps are processed and eventually sold in various quantities to homeowners, construction companies, and other groups.

The composting service has grown Cayuga Compost significantly since they began in 2005 with seven customers.

“Now we have over 200 commercial customers, including large establishments and businesses such as Wegmans, Ithaca College, Hobart College up in Geneva, and many area restaurants, food stores, GreenStars,” Seymour said.

According to the Cayuga Compost main website, the commercial compost facility can receive up to 5,000 wet tons of organics a year.

Seymour also said Cayuga Compost has recently been working to get the word out about food waste conservation.  As a part of that outreach, Cayuga Compost regularly offers tours to show the process and effects of mass composting.

“We do it almost all the time. We do educational outreach to schools — even to nursery schools,” Seymour said. “We start them young with the process so they understand the reasoning behind diverting food scraps from going to the landfill, what kind of a product we create from it, and how beneficial it is to our environment.”

Partnering with the Tompkins County Solid Waste Division, Seymour said the two companies are working in “a joint effort to promote food scrap diversion from going to the landfill.”

Moosewood co-owner, Jenny Wang said she is happy with the restaurant’s part in maintaining sustainability, as well as the growing acceptance of compost. Some places see composting as an extra effort, but Wang said she does not feel that way.

“It seems to me that more and more people are willing to have a small inconvenience — though to me, it doesn’t even feel like an inconvenience,” she said.

Named one of the thirteen most influential restaurants of the 20th century by Bon Appétit Magazine, Moosewood’s history of pioneering environmental causes continues.

“We aren’t the movement, but we’ve been a part of the revolution,” Wang said.

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