The clucking gets louder when Timm Johnson gets closer to the coop.
“Hi ladies,” he calls. Then, off to the side, “They know what time it is.”
It’s compost time. Armed with several buckets of compost taken from the trunk of his Chevrolet Volt, which he plugs in nightly to charge, Johnson treks toward the red chicken house at Diamond M Ranch off Kalifornsky Beach Road near Kenai. It’s the last stop on his biweekly compost run, which starts at Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio in Soldotna.
The studio acts as a central drop-off location for compostable material such as food scraps, paper and coffee grounds. Because compostable material breaks down, what the chickens don’t eat gets scratched into their bedding. A hutch on the sidewalk near the front door holds a log book where people approximate the weight of the compost they’re dropping off. They can leave their buckets, too — the studio will provide fresh ones and clean the dirty ones.
The whole route, which Johnson estimates takes him about 23 minutes, stops at The Schnitzel Bomber sandwich shop on Poppy Lane and at another part of Diamond M Ranch before ending at the coop. Johnson then carries the buckets from the trunk of his car to the coop, where chickens and turkeys stand on a compost pile large enough to insulate the space.
Johnson said he first began volunteering with the group after he discovered the community compost project. He offered to do a compost run on Mondays and Thursdays.
“During the lockdown, it was a way for me to literally get out of the house [and] not interact with people and do that, and they needed some kind of routine,” Johnson said.
The amount of compost Johnson carries in one trip ebbs and flows, but is generally greater during the summer. Right now there is also a general decline from compost received from businesses, which have been operating in a more restricted capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnson’s compost run is the direct result of a seven-part climate series hosted in 2019 by Cook Inletkeeper. That series, “Drawdown: Book to Action Climate Series,” used editor Paul Hawken’s “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,” as a jumping-off point, with meetings structured around different chapters.
The group identified projects that would help combat climate change that they wanted to do at the end of the series. Community composting and the expansion of solar power on the peninsula tied for first place, with the group ultimately deciding to take on composting first.
“We had a bunch of criteria and we really asked like, what is doable in a year or so with volunteer effort that will have an impact locally on reducing emissions,” said Cook Inletkeeper Regional Director Kaitlin Vadla.
In the first year of their composting efforts, Vadla said more than 100 local households have become involved with the program, either by composting at their homes, bringing their compost to the ranch or bringing it to the studio. The project also resulted in more than 20,000 pounds of compostable material being directed away from borough landfills.
“In the big scheme of things, you know, it’s a small amount but what we really wanted to do was to demonstrate that people want to be part of the solution [and] that people are ready for a local solution like community composting.”
Demonstrating a community interest in composting, Vadla said, is as much an economic issue as an environmental one. Landfills, Vadla said, are the second most expensive thing Kenai Peninsula Borough taxpayers pay for, after public education, at roughly $7 million per year.
“If we can extend the life of our landfill, because we keep compostable material out of it, we save millions of dollars for … borough taxpayers,” Vadla said.
People interested in composting with Cook Inletkeeper can contact the studio to pick up a bucket, or can arrange to drop their compost off at the studio.
More information about Cook Inletkeeper and the community composting program can be found at inletkeeper.org.