Composting is, of course, practically as ancient as agriculture itself, and it’s hard to imagine there could be fertile new ideas—particularly low-tech solutions—emerging in that field. However, research and engineering in composting have been thriving in synchrony with the global demand for greater efficiency in agriculture and the local foods movement in particular. For instance, one branch of composting research has been yielding surprisingly effective mechanisms for the organic management of plant disease. Another branch is exploiting compost as a source of renewable energy in the form of heat.
One particularly promising project at the Highfields Center is the development of low-cost, relatively low-tech compost heat recovery systems. In conjunction with engineering firms, the Center has placed both radiant and convection systems at local farms. At Jasper Hill Farm, the compost heat is used to maintain proper temperatures in a methane digester and a greenhouse where plants biologically purify wash water from the cheese house. At Auburn Star Farm in Lunenburg, Vt., composted manure heats a farm building where it offset $1,800 in kerosene costs in the first 3 months of operation.
Highfields is launching a $40,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund compost heat recovery research and development. As CY readers know, Kickstarter.com is a “crowdfunding” website that gathers pledges from hundreds of potential supporters. The pledges for a proposed project are collected only if the pledge total reaches its goal. Typically, the supporters receive gifts. In Highfield’s case, supporters are offered gifts of—you guessed it—packages of specialty compost (and other gifts, as well). You can learn more about Highfield’s composting heat collection project and its Kickstarter crowdfunding initiative at www.highfieldscomposting.org.