Completing the circle of sustainability

Farm to table is no longer a one-way street for area eateries now that Hillside Solutions, an innovation born of a local sanitation company, completes the circle from farm to table and back again. 

Gretna Sanitation began as a straight-forward waste management company offering landfill and recycling services to area customers, but the forward-thinking entrepreneurial owners quickly decided to pave their own path by spawning Soil Dynamics, a commercial composting facility located near Ashland, Nebraska.

Not long after, the team realized sustainability was gaining popularity and landfill diversion was a desirable path, so they formed Hillside Solutions and began to focus on developing broad waste solutions for large clients. 

In 2018 Brent Crampton, director of partnerships, decided to ride the wave of sustainability—the former night club owner felt a subtle but strong tug toward nature, growing things, and sustainability, despite no formal training or interaction with the industry. Eager to divert waste from the landfill and share Hillside Solutions’ story, Crampton further refined a 12-step implementation process that helped guide customers toward their personal sustainability goals. 

Soon, residential customers had access to industrial composting facilities, making it possible to turn their daily food and yard waste into the “black gold” of gardening, nutrient-rich soil. Home composting efforts have historically been limited to three types: vegetable, fruit, and yard waste with a common ratio: one-third nitrogen to two-third carbons. Meat waste is funneled to the landfill because it is difficult for a homeowner to generate enough heat to kill pathogens in the pile, and poisoned soil is worthless to a gardener. 

Industrial facilities such as Soil Dynamics have the quantity and space to change the ratio while maintaining the proper pH balance. The waste piles are formed into regularly rotated windrows, creating a chimney effect where oxygen (critical to breaking down waste) is sucked through the bottom and filtered through the top. 

The piles are kept at 50 percent moisture level to create an environment hospitable to the good microbial life but also kill weeds. After a month or two, organic material breaks down, raising the internal temperature to between 140–160°F, the sweet spot where pathogens and bad bacteria are killed but good bacteria thrive. The piles cure for about a year, and the resultant material is run through filters to remove plastic or glass.

Farmers, gardeners, and landscapers can then purchase the product and disperse it. This rich matter reintroduces nutrients to the soil, in turn creating a hospitable environment for growing delicious foods.

Restaurants are ideal customers because they often have a greater disposition to sustainability and are already striving to implement practices and follow protocol. A prime example is local farm-to-table eatery Au Courant, which changes its menu weekly, focusing on purchasing ingredients from local vendors such as Stream Meadow, an organic tomato farm in Papillion. 

Stream Meadow purchases compost from Soil Dynamics to feed its tomatoes, which are in turn purchased by Au Courant where the team develops and executes fresh dishes and composts its waste. This waste is collected and turned into “black gold,” which is employed by Stream Meadow and the cycle continues. 

Heirloom Catering is a local small business that keeps the circle even more intimate by using the soil in its own garden to grow the food, harvest the vegetables for use in original dishes, and compost food waste. Heirloom also serves as a Compost Club drop off site, providing a welcome community service. 

Creighton University recently embarked on a large composting effort, reducing an estimated 85,425 pounds of carbon dioxide through the program. The educational institution donates 100 percent of the soil to local nonprofit farms. Crampton is proud to be involved, sharing, “This is just another way of helping community, reinvesting in food systems in Omaha to help organic food remain accessible and equitable.”

The pool of customers who come to Hillside for solutions grows daily. Residential customers often share the common belief that climate change is a very real threat and desire to be part of a solution, and businesses have varied reasons for joining the program: to attract or retain talent, meet a demand from their customer base, or contribute to the community.

Residential customers automatically become members of the Compost Club, enabling them to share info with each other about how best to handle their waste until it can be deposited into one of the many drop off sites hosted by local business and other residential customers. In addition, customers (currently over 1,000) are allotted three bags of soil, though many of them choose to forgo their allotment, donating it to nonprofit food organizations throughout the metro area.

To learn more about this cutting-edge program, for educational resources, a guide to eco-friendly eating in Omaha, and details about joining the program, visit www.hillside.solutions.

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