Maine Compost School

Making A Difference in Maine and Beyond

Upcoming Schools: June 18-22, 2018 and October 15-19, 2018

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Maine Compost School History

Students at the Maine Compost School involved in a compost pile troubleshooting activity
Students at the Maine Compost School involved in a compost pile troubleshooting activity

The Maine Compost School is the longest continuously running compost program in the United States. It began in 1997, in response to numerous compost education requests from the public. In 2002, the program relocated to Highmoor Farm, a University of Maine Forest and Experimental Station in Monmouth, Maine. Over 700 participants have come from 42 US states, 10 Canadian provinces and 40 other foreign countries. In 2007, a full-scale commercial compost site was constructed as a center of excellence for education and research. The new facility provides opportunity for hands-on learning and field experiences along with traditional classroom activities. The five-day school attracts a wide range of participants of which, approximately two-thirds are from for-profit businesses and the rest are from non-profits such as schools, government agencies, or personal interest.

Program Partners

The Maine Compost School is a collaborative program between the University of Maine, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Maine Compost School Impacts

Students at the Maine Compost School involved in a compost recipe exercise
Students at the Maine Compost School involved in a compost recipe exercise

In 2014, an electronic survey was sent to all (148) who attended the Maine Compost School from 2009-2014 to solicit their input and assess program impacts. Sixty-eight people responded to the survey, representing a 46% response rate. Respondents indicated that attending the conference helped them in the following ways:

  • 100% increased their knowledge of operating a composting operation; 57% increased their knowledge “a great deal.”
  • 24% enhanced their employment situation.
  • 7% started a new compost business.

Business Respondents

Thirty respondents (44%) classified themselves as a compost operation that produced compost for sale to the general public or an operation that produced compost for food and fiber production systems. Each business composts an average of 2,700 cubic yards per year. However, about half are small operations producing less then 25 cubic yards per year, while about one-third are larger businesses producing about 8,100 cubic yards annually. These businesses produced a total of 82,000 cubic yards of finished compost with an estimated retail value of approximately $2.5 million.1 The average business employed 23 full-time and 14 part-time workers with a total estimated annual payroll of approximately $796,5002.2

Business Respondent Impacts

Rainbow Valley Farm Compost: A Maine Compost School partner.
Rainbow Valley Farm Compost: A Maine Compost School partner.

The survey revealed that business operators attending the Compost School improved their knowledge about operating a compost business and used their improved business management skills to make changes that had a beneficial impact on their businesses (and their communities) in the following ways:

  • 61% made more effective decisions in their operations
  • 47% improved product quality
  • 39% improved operational efficiency
  • 18% increased sales an average of $8,500 per year
  • 17% increased employment – hiring a total of 8 full-time and 7 part-time workers with a total estimated annual payroll of $305,0002
  • 16% increased profitability
  • The average value placed on attending the Maine Compost School was $2,101 indicating exceptional participant value

Summary

The Maine Compost School is an effective economic development program helping entrepreneurs successfully create and grow viable businesses in Maine and beyond. The survey indicates the school was an exceptional value to participants. Business owners attending the compost school increased their knowledge and skills improving their business management practices. These practice changes improved product quality and operational efficiencies resulting in increased sales, employment, and profitability. The school has had a positive economic impact on participants businesses and communities

For more information

Mark Hutchinson, Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, mhutch @maine.edu, or visit the Maine Compost School website.

1 The average bulk price, of $30/yd., was used to calculate the retail value of the compost.

2 Annual payroll was estimated using wage rates provided by the Maine Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, 2013