Sarah Robuck remembers having a garden as a child and watching her mom take care of it. She found the lifecycle of a plant fascinating and was eager to learn more about how humans use plants to cultivate food.
The pandemic encouraged Sarah to start The Verdant Farm, a six-acre organic vegetable farm on the land she grew up on. Her goal with this farm is to produce organic, nutrient-dense food for her community, start a countywide composting initiative, and a community garden.
“It’s important for me to live my life in a way that I am giving back for the experience that I am having and to create a world that is a better place to live in,” Sarah expressed. “Sustainability is just one spoke on that wheel. It ensures a future period, first of all; but it is helping work towards a longer and brighter future for the entire community.”
The city of Athens provides a composting service for all food waste in the entire county, and other urban areas have embraced composting as a lifestyle. Sarah was inspired by Athens’ program and thought Morgan County would be a great place to start and share her composting initiative.
“A lot of people ask, ‘why do I care about dealing with people’s food waste? That’s kind of gross’,” Sarah said with a laugh. “Honestly, composting is really important to me. I got into it as a gardener, and I recognized how useful it can be in rejuvenating soil health. But also, it’s a way to close a loop in the system of food production.”
People eat food and throw away the scraps that get put into a landfill, but food scraps do not decompose in landfills. The food scraps will sit there forever.
“I like to tell people a banana peel will still be a banana peel in twenty years in a land fill,” Sarah said.
Sarah encourages people to compost on their own if they can. If they don’t have time to compost on their own, The Verdant Farm offers a composting program called The Community Composting Initiative. For $20 a month, Sarah gives members a two-gallon bucket to put their food waste in, and she comes by every Monday to pick up the bucket and leaves a clean one. Members earn a bag of compost after six months of weekly food waste pickups.
“The people here are really community oriented and want their community to do well, and if that means not over flowing our landfills, I think people will be keen on that,” Sarah said. “On average, composting saves 277 pounds of waste per person per year. If every adult in Morgan County composted, together we could divert almost five million pounds of trash from our landfills each year.”
In the future, Sarah hopes to have a community garden at the farm. A traditional community garden allows people to rent a plot, but Sarah wants her community garden to be more integrative where people can come to take care of the garden in whatever capacity they want, and then the food will be donated.
“The community garden would be great for kids to get community service hours, or if someone wants to learn how to garden,” Sarah said.
The Verdant Farm grows a wide variety of plants. In the spring, Sarah grows lettuce, radishes, kale and spinach. She hopes to expand in the future and grow more to sell to local markets, but the current state of the farm is growing produce for her family and selling at Farmview’s market on Saturdays. In the summer, she grows heirloom tomatoes, corn, peppers, sweet potatoes, and flowers.
“I primarily grow flowers for the benefits for the soil and for their insect deterring properties,” Sarah said. “I just grow them as a means of pest control because the garden is organic. I don’t use pesticides, so I have to think of other ways to keep bugs away.”
Currently, Sarah is starting seeds and nurturing baby plants in preparation for the summer. She also preps the garden by putting down compost and tilling the soil. She plants the seeds in cardboard egg cartons filled with topsoil. Once the seeds have sprouted and the weather is warmer, she plants the seedlings in the garden.
Local compost is beneficial because it doesn’t have to be treated with chemicals, unlike store-bought compost and fertilizers. Whenever the right amount of green material (food scraps) and brown material (leaves, pine straw or cardboard) is placed in a pile, the bacteria will naturally heat up the pile to 140 degrees, which kills the seeds and bad bacteria.
“You can compost pretty much any type of food material,” Sarah said. “Any kind of vegetable scrap, coffee grounds, uncoated paper like newspapers or cardboard, tea bags, dryer lint and hair. I don’t have anyone giving me hair right now, and I’m kind of glad about that,” Sarah said with a laugh.
Sarah turns her pile every other day to add air into the pile so bacteria can thrive and help break down the organic material to form compost. It takes about six months for the decomposing process to occur. Once the pile is fully decomposed, that’s when people can add the compost to their garden safely.
“There is not a ton of mold that gets created in composting,” Sarah explained. “The food is not rotting. It’s just breaking down. It will rot if you don’t mix the brown material in with the food scraps. Any harmful bacteria, seeds and plant diseases will die in the decomposing process.”
Sarah is currently composting about 300 pounds of food waste a month for Morgan County. For more information, visit theverdantfarm.com.
By Katie Marie O'Neal