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Encore Blog: Farewell, Team!



Congratulations on completing the 2024 Backyard Compost Challenge! As you know, we began this journey with a question: How much food waste would Rockbridge County households keep out of the landfill if given the chance? Well folks, the numbers are in. During our 10-week, 105-household project, we collectively diverted 5,017 pounds of food waste from the landfill. In fact, this year we have special cause for celebration, as 2024 was the first Backyard Compost Challenge to exceed 5,000 pounds! In other words, we are compost champions.


Thank you all for your slop stamina throughout this spring, and many thanks to those who have already completed the post-project survey. Your responses demonstrate that the Challenge is about so much more than 10 weeks of composting: It’s about a community growing new and lasting practices of Earth stewardship. So what does that look like? Here are a few of our biggest takeaways from survey results:


How have we changed?

Many of us described noticing a greater awareness of how our actions impact the world. As one participant wrote, “We are more conscious of our impact on the earth and look for ways to reduce our footprint.” Specifically, many households described forming new and more sustainable habits – whether they were compost-related or not. To reduce food scraps before they wind up in the pail, one participant wrote, “we’ve started gardening more and established a more regular grocery routine to avoid waste and over-purchasing.” Another household reported gaining greater awareness of packaging waste, which led them to buy reusable produce and grocery bags. Another said that they now “rarely buy bottled water…now I have a water bottle I fill up with tap water, reducing the amount of plastic going to recycling.” And with the gusto that comes from a true passion for our Earth, one participant exclaimed, “We have stopped using disposable napkins in our house!” 


What have we learned?

Several households also described gaining valuable new information. One participant wrote that they learned more about the human footprint on Earth, along with how soil is made and how our food scraps break down. They added that this made for a “fun science unit” with children in their home. Another household wrote about how they learned the great environmental value of composting, and why the backyard decomposition process avoids the generation of greenhouse gasses (methane) that occurs in landfill conditions. 


How did we involve children?

It’s inspiring to hear all the ways our young Slop Superstars engaged with this year’s Challenge. As one participant noted of their children, “They were excited to weigh the bucket before we dumped it…we were able to give them more information and help understand the process of composting.” Another composter described using the Challenge as a science experiment with their 8-year-old daughter, and another said that they enjoyed “my kids’ enthusiasm for it and excitement to add the compost to our garden in the near future.” Another parent wrote, “It was a great project for our family to do since it showed us how much our kitchen scraps weigh. Also it was a natural way to practice math skills!” And finally, one proud parent noted that their son explained to someone else how to compost a piece of food rather than throw it away. A new generation of composting champions has arrived!


What was our greatest challenge?

While a variety of obstacles arose, by far the most frequently cited was simply “remembering.” In fact, that word came up in over one third of our responses. Whether it was difficult to remember to keep food scraps out of the trash, weigh the pail, or submit data, we know that new habits are hard to grow and maintain, and we hope that the 10-week span is supportive on this front. We so appreciate everyone’s perseverance, and we are glad to report that one veteran composter wrote, “This is my 3rd year so I've got a nice rhythm going – no challenges this year.” In other words: It gets easier the more we keep at it.


How did we support each other? 

One of the greatest patterns in our survey is the value of our community. One participant wrote that “being a part of a larger community project” was what they valued most about the Challenge. Another described how helpful it was to receive “feedback from 100 other families” throughout the experience. Others noted how the Challenge made them feel more empowered in their own individual actions. One participant wrote that they realized “the quantity that a one-person household can save from the landfill," and another described “feeling like we are doing a small part to make a difference in this world.” Finally, one composter explained how the Challenge “made something that seemed a little overwhelming/daunting become easy. Now that we have an understanding and the tools, we've developed a habit that we can easily continue. It's not hard!” Equally important, our new collective habit is becoming its own force of – and for – nature. Based on exit surveys, more than 95% of this year’s cohort plans to continue composting one way or the other: that’s an amazing outcome! 


Finally, one of my greatest takeaways from this project is how much it’s renewed my faith in the ability of communities to get together, be passionate, and make a difference. From your smiling faces on rainy Earth Machine pickup days to your conscientious communication to all the creative and valuable experiences you’ve shared, it’s been an inspiration to witness our community flourish. Congratulations to the 2024 Backyard Compost Challenge Champions!

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