It was an incredibly sad day for many of us when county officials closed down Sonoma Compost, an iconic, green business that has played a pivotal role in Sonoma County agriculture’s move to sustainable farming. Sonoma County would not be the internationally recognized leader in sustainable agriculture it is today if not for Sonoma Compost.
Compost, after all, is the lifeblood of organic and sustainable farming, replenishing the soil by increasing fertility and water holding capacity. Whatever comes next, we are indebted to Sonoma Compost for its pioneering work, starting in 1993, in transforming the county’s vegetative debris into a rich soil additive for ourgrowing number of organic and sustainable farms. For more than 20 years, Sonoma Compost has represented the ultimate in recycling and reuse while serving a vital link in the county’s food production chain.
Now, the company is being shut down, maybe forever.
Following years of legal battles and allegations of pollution, the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency on May 22 ordered Sonoma Compost to shut down operations by Oct. 1 as part of a legal settlement. The October shut down aims to have operations cease before the traditional rainy season when there could be run-off from the mounds of compost. Sonoma Compost will stop accepting yard waste several months before the October deadline to ensure all materials are processed before the closure.
Once that happens, county leaders said the yard debris and green waste – 100,000 tons a year — will be hauled to other facilities outside Sonoma County. Leaders promise that the out-hauling is only temporary but “temporary” could be several years – or more – as the county deals with cumbersome environmental regulations, escalating costs and certain legal challenges as it moves forward to establish a modern composting operation.
Looking to the future, Sonoma County Farm Bureau supports a new, environmentally-friendly composting facility at the Central Landfill site on Mecham Road west of Cotati. Farm Bureau is strongly opposed to permanently hauling green waste out of Sonoma County to other composting facilities because of the costs and environmental impacts of trucking materials to Vacaville or Novato and then hauling the compost back to our farms.
Farm Bureau President John Azevedo said Sonoma County has a responsibility to handle its own green waste within the county, particularly, considering the tremendous demand from our farmers for the valuable compost produced from that waste.
Sonoma County supervisor Shirlee Zane said the decision to close Sonoma Compost was not easy but was necessary to move forward and settle the lawsuit brought by neighbors. Zane and other county officials seem determined to keep composting in the county and next month plan to choose a permanent site for a new compost facility, with a price tag of more than $50 million. Sonoma Compost would like to be the business that operates the new facility.
The challenge, of course, will be to overcome the many hurdles and naysayers standing in the way of a permanent composting facility at the Central Landfill on Mecham Road. Our job is to work together and remain vigilant, continually reminding county supervisors that an in-county composting operation is the cornerstone of Sonoma County agriculture’s commitment to a sustainable future.