A graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the Clinton School of Public Service, Read Admire launched The Urban Food Loop in May. It's a do-gooder idea with a business start-up twist. For $31 a month, Admire will come by your house once a week, pick up your organic kitchen scraps in a supplied bin and turn landfill-bound waste into compost. The subscriber can either get bulk deliveries of their compost just in time for garden planting in the spring and early fall, or the fertilizer can be donated to one of several local community organizations that have partnered with the Loop, including Little Rock Urban Farming, the Dunbar Community Garden Project and the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance Gleaning Garden.
How did you come up with the idea for The Urban Food Loop?
The Clinton Global Initiative University program had put out a request for proposals for innovative ideas, and I wanted to get involved, but I didn't have an innovative idea. Meanwhile I was working part time as a line cook at Natchez (restaurant). I saw how much food was wasted between vegetable scraps and leftovers. Having just lived on a farm where we composted everything, I knew the food waste at the restaurant would create good compost for my home garden. I started collecting food waste from Natchez and South on Main. I didn't have any big plans until, as part of my first-year project, the Clinton School sent me to a Delta Regional Authority conference where U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was the keynote speaker. He mentioned a lot of statistics. The one that stuck out to me the most was that almost 40 percent of food in the U.S. ends up in landfills. After I got home I did a little more research on food waste and found out how valuable a natural resource compost is. ... Later that night I was just lying on my floor listening to a record when the idea hit me: I needed to start turning food waste into fertile soil on a larger level.
What's your process for turning scraps into compost?
The Urban Food Loop drops off a compost bin weekly to subscribers. They scrape all their food waste — from coffee filters, to vegetable scraps, to bones — into their bin. Every week I drive a pickup route and switch out the full buckets with clean, empty ones. I take the food scraps to my property where the composting begins. ... Every day I rake out the compost pile and turn it with a pitchfork. It takes several months for everything to break down into the finished product. Once it's done I shovel it all into my truck and take it to Dunbar Gardens where I use their "Worm Rocket," a compost tumbler that sorts out the fine black compost from the rocks, sticks and bones that didn't compost.
For the average household, how much compost can they expect to receive?
Because we just started, we only have a small batch of finished compost. Next year, a customer can expect several hundred pounds of compost to be delivered to their home garden.
Has the idea been well received in Little Rock?
The idea has been incredibly well received. We haven't advertised much yet because we want to make sure all the kinks are worked out before we go big — and they are. Right now we have 15 customers, with more signing up every week. It seems like a cool idea, but it's so new, some people hesitate. However, once people use the service for a few weeks they can't believe how much less they have in the trash. They tell their friends how easy it is, and then they sign up. And then they tell a friend. And that's how it's gone since June. We have one restaurant [subscriber] right now, South on Main, and are working on logistics with The Faded Rose.
Do you see The Urban Food Loop as a "save the world" project, or more of a business venture? Those two things don't have to be mutually exclusive, of course.
It's both. It's a social enterprise with a double bottom line. We want to make money, but we want to do it doing something that matters. Studying at the Clinton School has really shown me that there is a way to do both.