Stonewall residents love their picture-perfect lawns, but all that watering, fertilizing and mowing create a pile of grass clippings.
Leaves and grass clippings amount to nearly 450 tonnes of yard waste generated annually in their community, say town of Stonewall staff.
And it all might end up as a methane-emitting mountain of mush in a landfill somewhere, were it not for the enthusiasm of a nearby farmer to compost it all for his own use instead.
Lloyd Jensen began composting Stonewall’s leaves and grass clippings produced by its 1,800 or so households about a decade ago.
“I just thought there’s got to be something better to do with it than hauling it to the dump,” says the self-described hobby farmer with about 70 acres of land he grows wheat on just a mile east of town.
At that time, Stonewall was also paying tipping fees to haul yard waste to its transfer station — anywhere from at least four to six bags of yard waste per household per week — and the costs worried town officials.
Jensen said the idea of using it himself presented itself after he asked the local contractor hauling it if a truckload could be diverted to his place where he was making compost for the family garden. The contractor even waived the cost of delivery saying it reduced his hauling costs — and that’s when the “stuff” of Jensen’s farm, which he today calls S’toons ’n Stuff (he also grows saskatoons and cherries) began to take shape.
Applied straight to fields
Today Jensen takes all the yard waste Stonewallers leave out in plastic bags, which are diverted to his farmyard. He then hauls the bags in a front-end loader out to one of his three small fields where he breaks open the bags and dumps, spreads and discs the yard waste directly into the soil.
“I just run over the soil with a deep tiller and an ordinary old tractor, and do that a couple of dozen times. It takes a lot the first few passes because it’s all clumpy so you have to spread it out and move it around. Then I take the discer out and just flip the soil over so you’re burying it into the soil as much as you can.”
The field is left fallow for a year after, which works on his farm because of the nature and scale of it, adds Jensen.
“This is my hobby. This is not my living,” he says. His day job is a flight services specialist with NAV Canada.
The town now pays Jensen tipping fees they’d otherwise be paying a nearby landfill to take the waste, and he estimates his savings on fertilizer is anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 a year.
He grows wheat on these fields. The yields are lower but he’s still as happy with the results.
“I get decent yields and I have low inputs. It’s good for the soil. It makes the land easier to work and the water retention is fantastic. It doesn’t dry out nearly as fast and surprisingly where I had the water holes before, they’re absorbed very quickly.”
He’s undaunted by the work involved. It takes him about 30 minutes to spread three truckloads of yard waste.
“I don’t golf,” he says. He’s motivated mainly for the satisfaction he gets of seeing something put to good use.
“It’s about using junk,” he said. “This is garbage the town would normally take to the dump. We’re reusing it all.”
“We” also includes local gardeners. Jensen also sets aside leaves and grass in windrows to compost for a full two years. His brother built a screener that sifts it smooth, after which it’s made available free of charge to town gardeners. A local business keeps a bin of it stocked, and residents helping themselves make donations to the palliative care program.
“It’s been a pretty good fundraiser,” he adds.
Town of Stonewall CAO Robert Potter said they’ve lucked out the day Lloyd came through their doors.
The basic rate they negotiate with Jensen to take the yard waste annually costs less than using the town’s equipment and staff to run their own composting program, said Potter.
Plus, Lloyd is the end-user.
“We still generate piles of yard waste,” said Potter. “But at least we are doing something No. 1 environmentally and No. 2 cost effectively.”
Both the town and Jensen are waiting to see if this initiative qualifies for support from the province as Manitoba moves to boost community composting and divert more yard waste from landfills.
Earlier this month the province launched Tomorrow Now, a new green action plan with goals that include tripling the amount of organics Manitoba diverts from landfills by boosting organic waste collection and processing of food, yard and wood waste.
The provincial target is to divert 85 kg of organics per person by 2020, which is a lot more than the current 30 kg Manitobans now divert, and even higher than the national average of 65 kg per capita.
The initiative is backed by a $1-million annual fund that will become available to eligible municipal and commercial composting facilities.