University goes greener with compost facility operated by the College
By Nancy Weiss
After a two-year construction process, the UConn composting facility began operation in August 2011, at the Spring Manor Farm site in Mansfield. The idea to construct a compost facility on campus began in the early 1990s. In 2004, a task force was assembled as a joint effort between the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the University’s Office of Environmental Policy (OEP) and the University administration.
“[Then} Vice Pesident Barry Feldman was instrumental in getting this done,” says Mary Kegler, farm services manager.
Construction was delayed when the first site was rejected. After the Spring Manor site was chosen, OEP director Rich Miller brought concerned neighbors to a similar operation at Laurel Brook Farm in Litchfield County, where they could observe the process firsthand. Since that time, UConn’s site has not received any complaints from residents.
The compost facility has a roof, which is not required by regulations, so rainfall does not cause the piles of composting organic material to become saturated and produce offensive odors or lose nutrients
“It’s a step in the right direction in our nutrient management plan,” says Kegler. UConn cornfields contain excess phosphorus, like much of the corn land in the state. The excess comes from importation of feed for UConn’s farm animals. Only a small amount of phosphorus is removed when the animals eat the feed, and the accumulation of phosphorus occurs when manure is applied to meet the nitrogen needs of corn. Proper management of the manure reduces the environmental impact.
The facility includes an 86-by-120-foot building with a 100-by-100-foot paved curing pad. The site allows for an additional building to be constructed on the other side of the curing pad.
Manure and bedding from the College’s agricultural animals are composted. To start the composting process, collected material is placed inside the building in a long row, called a windrow. The material’s temperature is measured to determine when it should be aerated. Machinery is used to mix the windrow from the inside out, allowing for consistent aeration. This allows the naturally occurring microbes to work properly. A simple test of the ammonia and carbon dioxide levels determines when the compost is stable, and then the windrow is moved to the curing pad. Nutrient analysis is performed after the compost is stable, and the compost is of a high quality. “On average, the process takes about 90 days from intake to the curing pad,” says Oliver.
The windrow is covered on the curing pad and left until composting is complete. “It’s a team effort to make this happen,” Oliver says.
Thomas Morris, associate professor of plant science and soil specialist, served as a consultant during the planning and construction phase. He uses the facility for outdoor class instruction and gives campus tours during Cornucopia and other campus events.
“It’s been rewarding to be a part of this whole process,” says Oliver. “Having a new facility and the proper equipment has been really helpful.” Kegler agrees. She says, “We provide an excellent material that is available for landscape needs throughout the University.”
After University landscaping needs have been met, surplus compost is sold to the public in the spring and fall, helping to fund operation of the facility.