UMaine researcher, undergraduate, community partners awarded grant for midcoast composting project

As part of an interdisciplinary team examining ways to reduce food waste in Maine, a researcher in the University of Maine School of Economics and his undergraduate student assistant recently were awarded $17,000 from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for a startup composting program in the midcoast region.

The funds will help implement a food scrap collection and processing system in the region with project partners Bó Lait Farm of Washington, Maine and ScrapDogs Community Compost of Camden, Maine. The compost will be made in Washington using waste collected in communities between Belfast and Warren.

Researcher Travis Blackmer and undergraduate Taylor Patterson are part of the project, “Making Maine’s local food system sustainable,” being conducted by a team of researchers and students affiliated with the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions.

Connor and Alexis MacDonald of Bó Lait Farm in Washington, Maine.

Patterson is one of five undergraduate scholars funded by the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation. Each is collaborating with a faculty member to implement a project to reduce food waste in Maine. Projects include an innovative mix of research including improving the shelf life of packaged food, diverting more food waste from landfills, and enhancing food redistribution efforts.

The DEP grant is being used to purchase hauling equipment, large 32-gallon toters and a trailer for ScrapDogs, and a new gravel composting pad and composting equipment, where Bó Lait can process the food scraps and manure to begin the compost cooking process.

“We’ve been working with Bó Lait since April,” Blackmer says. “And the reason we picked midcoast Maine as the focus of our efforts is because it’s an area with a high number of sustainability and zero-waste groups, but they don’t have any composting businesses that do anything related to community-oriented composting.”

The team worked closely with DEP and the Maine Department of Agriculture to locate the Washington dairy farm run by Connor and Alexis MacDonald, who were anxious to join a startup composting business.

ScrapDogs, the waste collector, hauler and processor that came on board in July, focuses on households, restaurants and other small food waste producers. Tessa Rosenberry and Davis Saltonstall of ScrapDogs were met with enthusiasm by their community and quickly have outgrown their pilot site in downtown Camden.

“The Mitchell Center team has played a crucial role in fostering our partnership with Bó Lait, taking the lead on writing the DEP grant and really capturing our intentions and the impact this endeavor can have on the region,” say Rosenberry and Saltonstall of ScrapDogs. “We couldn’t have gotten to where we are without Travis and Taylor.”

Bó Lait will be on the compost production side, given their access to the cow manure needed to mix with the food waste and the space at their farm. They also have the tractors and other equipment needed to produce high-quality compost.

“We are very excited to provide a necessary service to this area, and to create a value-added product from otherwise discarded materials,” the MacDonalds say. “We always had an interest in composting, but if it wasn’t for the folks with the Mitchell Center, we would not have been able to begin with this process of starting a composting business.”

“I like to call this the ‘midcoast composting cooperative’ — two companies that are separate, but are partners,” says Blackmer, who is one of a handful of researchers on the Mitchell Center’s materials management team.

Blackmer and Patterson worked as the marketing, outreach, client recruitment and education arm of Bó Lait before it partnered with ScrapDogs. Going forward, ScrapDogs will focus on marketing/outreach, and host community gardening, as well as composting workshops and educational seminars in schools.

“Our focus now is on optimizing the process and to focus on the financial performance of the project on both sides — collection and compost production,” Blackmer says.

Contact: David Sims, 207.581.3244,