Research Opportunities

Beginning in Fall 2018, the University will pilot a food waste composting system behind the Fitzrandolph Observatory. The in-vessel aerobic digester will convert a portion of campus food waste  into a soil amendment for University grounds, while serving as a living laboratory for multi-disciplinary investigations into all aspects of food waste conversion.

See below for several research opportunities:

1. Not all compost is created equal. The bacteria and fungi profile and diversity can vary depending on the quality and type of inputs into the system. Test different input ratios of carbon to nitrogen (i.e. food waste) and/or different carbon sources (e.g. wood shavings vs. wood chips vs. cardboard). Study the microbial communities over time based on feedstock type. Which combinations or sources result in finished compost that is most effective at…

a. Removing toxins or other pollutants from the soil?
b. Increasing the water holding capacity of soil/preventing erosion?
c. Promoting soil carbon sequestration?
d. Promoting growth and/or disease suppression of crops grown in the Forbes Garden or Frist Herb Garden?
e. Growing nutrient-rich and high quality fruit and vegetables in the Forbes Garden/Frist Herb Garden?

2. Experiment with different compost teas and extracts. What compost : water ratio is best at protecting plants from fungus or diseases?

3. Test the feasibility of the aerobic digester unit in breaking down a range of bioware to inform University purchasing decisions around non-plastic eating utensils, plates, cups, take-out containers, etc. Consider contributing and comparing results in the Compost Council Research & Education Foundation (CCREF)’s Open Source Field Testing Program for certified compostable packaging.

4. Participate in a multi-year comparative analysis of using finished compost from the aerobic digester versus chemical fertilizers on the University’s athletic field

5. Conduct an ethnographic study of different people’s experience and/or relationship with composting and soil amendments

6. What are the economic impacts of returning uneaten food to the soil? Quantify the positive externalities and ecosystem services provided through compost applications.

7. Assist with graphic design and communication materials for site tours

Please contact Food Systems Project Specialist, Gina Talt ’15, with any questions or to express interest in operational or research opportunities.