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St. Lawrence County school using composter to turn food waste into organic material

By Eric Reinhardt


John Culpepper, director of facilities and sustainability, operates a large-scale drum composter at North Country School Camp Treetops in Lake Placid in spring 2017. Hermon Dekalb Central School in St. Lawrence County is among three organizations using similar machines to turn food waste into organic material. (Photo credit: ANCA)

Hermon Dekalb Central School in St. Lawrence County is among the North Country organizations using a large-scale composter to turn food waste into organic material.

Hermon DeKalb will include the composter in its local food program.

That’s according to ANCA (Adirondack North Country Association), which describes itself as an “independent nonprofit organization growing the New Economy in northern New York.”

Lake Placid Central School and the Wild Center in Tupper Lake are also using similar equipment, per ANCA’s Tuesday news release.

The organizations are utilizing replicas of a model composter that was built at North Country School Camp Treetops (NCS/CTT) in Lake Placid in 2017. The machine allows schools and communities to process up to 200 pounds of organic matter each day, turning waste into compost in about a month’s time, ANCA said.

“Composting with this in-vessel system allows organizations, municipalities or businesses to save money by reducing landfill costs, reducing methane emissions, creating a valuable soil amendment and reducing water pollution that can occur with open-air composting piles,” John Culpepper, NCS/CTT director of facilities and sustainability. “The shortened retention time and mechanized rotation make large-scale composting much more streamlined.”

The estimated cost of one composting machine is around $30,000, plus $10,000 for the shipping container. Culpepper estimates the system pays for itself in five to eight years, due to cost savings from tipping fees and the value of finished compost. The composters offset about nine metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually — the equivalent of removing two vehicles from the road.

About the pilot project

The 2017 pilot project was funded through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) cleaner greener communities program funded the 2017 pilot project. The cleaner greener communities program is a four-year, $100 million initiative aimed at “moving New York communities toward a more environmentally sustainable future,” per the release.

The program encourages communities to create public-private partnerships and develop “regional sustainable growth strategies” in areas such as emission control, energy efficiency, renewable energy, low-carbon transportation, and other carbon reductions.

ANCA secured NYSERDA funding for the systems and worked closely with NCS/CTT and site hosts to ensure the project met its goals and requirements.

“Today’s announcement is an excellent example of the impact local communities can have by coming together in an effort to advance sustainability and environmental stewardship,” Alicia Barton, president and CEO of NYSERDA, said.

In two years, NCS/CTT has processed more than 116,000 pounds of organic material, composed mostly of food scraps, into 53 cubic yards of high-quality compost that is then used in the school’s vegetable gardens.

ANCA secured additional funding from NYSERDA in the fall of 2018 to construct three more composting units in the region. Culpepper and Jennifer Perry, ANCA sustainability project coordinator, selected the host organizations based on their “proven commitment” to sustainability initiatives and their ability to successfully complete projects.

“Lake Placid, Hermon DeKalb and The Wild Center stood out immediately as ideal recipients for the systems,” Perry contended. “We’re excited to have these partners on board, demonstrating how the composters work and how they can benefit communities across the North Country.”

Perry said Hermon DeKalb’s composting system will be supported by several committed community members including an Amish farm, a local restaurant, SUNY Canton.

The systems are housed in retrofitted 40-foot shipping containers, which were purchased in part with funds from the New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse & Recycling (NYSAR³) green schools grant program, ANCA said.

Contact Reinhardt at

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