“Why aren’t we doing this?” Marie Hopkins asks rhetorically. She’s talking about composting. And it’s her hope that it will soon become such a commonplace activity in Cincinnati that it will shift from being something that only eco-conscious, green-thumbed people do to an every household affair. I guess this is where Mark Twain’s well-known quote about Cincinnati being behind the times seems apt. But if Hopkins has anything to do with it, we won’t be behind for long.
How does a 28-year-old biomedical engineering major who's trained to make medical devices end up starting a composting business? She follows her passion.
“I always enjoyed science & math in school, and I always wanted to do something that would be productive and helpful towards society. I got into biomedical engineering [at UC] because I thought those things aligned well,” Hopkins explains. “But there wasn’t enough of community involvement, which is why I veered off-path in another direction.”
Following graduation, she took a job with Habitat for Humanity. That position and the folks she worked with led Hopkins to further question what it means to do right by and for the earth. On a hike with a friend in November of 2018, she landed on commercial and community composting as her avenue to make an impact.
“That hike is when I first had the thought of ‘Yeah, huh, maybe I could do this.' And I’d heard of other places that offer community compost solutions,” Hopkins says.
With her friend who was a part of the plan at conception, they started researching the business model. This included a visit to Rust Belt Riders in Cleveland, where Hopkins is from, and taking a two-day composting course with the OSU extension office. Her friend ended up going her own way while Hopkins kept at it. In April of this year, she had her first collections of compost for Queen City Commons (QCC).
COMPOSTING FOR COMMERCIAL & COMMUNITY
QCC offers two services. First, commercial. Hopkins works with local restaurants (e.g. La Terza, Melt, La Soupe) and other non-restaurant organizations to set up and collect composting at their sites.
Second, community. She manages neighborhood composting bins (e.g. Northside & Walnut Hills) that folks can access for a $10/mo subscription. Hopkins then takes the compost to Carriage House Farms, QCC’s farm partner, and the ultimate destination for the scraps that will be turned into nutrient-rich soil to produce more food. The cycle continues.
For those who think of composting as merely collecting food waste, it turns out there’s a little more to it than that. If all you did was put your carrot peels and eggshells in a bucket in your backyard and nothing else, then sure, that’s composting. You might not produce grade-A compost, though.
It takes more than that. Pro tip: Keep the process aerobic. Just like your body needs exercise and oxygen, as it turns out, so does your compost. How do you keep your process aerobic?
HOW TO NEXT-LEVEL COMPOST:
1) Put things into the pile that have structure (e.g. wood chips, cardboard, and dead leaves)
2) Turnover the compost at some consistent frequency
3) Keep it hydrated—you don’t want it sopping wet, nor do you want it to dry out
4) Pay attention to heat. Keep it insulated in the winter so as to provide the right environment for microorganisms to continue breaking down.
Perhaps you already knew all of that. As a composting newbie, I was blown away by all that it entails. For those who are mentally geeking out but have little-to-no interest in putting in the effort to churn up some top-notch compost, that’s exactly why Queen City Commons is such a worthy and needed business. All you have to do is collect your food waste (just the veggies), sign up for a subscription with QCC, and drop off your garbage-turned-fuel at one of the neighborhood sites. If you don’t live in or near Northside or Walnut Hills, fear not. More sites will come online soon.
To see a part of the process in action—mostly talking about the collection process, which is Hopkins’ main beat—scroll back to the top and flip through the photo gallery.
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For more information about Queen City Commons, please visit the website.