LIMA — Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institute offenders are mastering how to compost, a skill both in high-demand and beneficial to agriculture, according to Bob Nauman, business administrator, Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institute.
“We are taking 50,000 pounds a month of food waste out of our institution alone,” said Nauman. “We’re feeding close to 2,000 inmates, 3 meals a day, and so it’s like feeding a little city. It’s saved us so much money on trash collection.”
Located in a retrofitted cattle barn, this Class II site composts food scraps collected on-site, as well as food scraps, animal manure, yard trimmings and other feedstock generated up to 85 miles away.
The Allen-Oakwood Correctional Facility Compost Complex (Allen-Oakwood) was featured during the Composting in Ohio: A Tour of the Industry, Aug. 9, in Lima. The event also featured Andre Farms Composting in Wauseon. A total of 72 people attended the event.
Andre Farms is also a Class II facility and composts dairy manure, food waste and yard trimmings to create a product that provides more plant nutrition, compared to topsoil.
Allen-Oakwood and partner, Barnes Nursery of Huron, operate a public-private composting program at the penal institution in Lima. The program provides training for offenders to learn a new trade before they are released back into the workforce.
“Our finished product is used in improving the quality of soil, increasing the organic matters, and is proven to help with water quality and runoff,” said Bob Schantz, manager at Barnes Nursery (Barnes). “Soil holds more water and it gives plants the ability to uptake it and also locks up nutrients.”
This program launched in February and removes about 5,000 tons of food residual from landfills, according to James Haviland, Allen-Oakwood warden.
According to Mary Wicks, PROBE Coordinator, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, this was the 12th composting tour since 1999, “although it has evolved from visiting livestock and composting facilities to just the latter,” said Wicks. “We try to do it annually, if we can find 2-3 facilities that are willing to open their doors and are in relatively close proximity.”
Currently, 7 offenders are working the compost facility. Barnes sources compost materials from 5 different counties. The facility also has a 425-acre hay field, which is rolled and mixed with the other compost ingredients. In the future there will also be a lab set up for testing compost, which the offenders will also learn.
“It’s endless, what this is designed for — it teaches the inmates a skill that’s high-demand. They’re coming out here where Ohio State can only do 30 people a year in the compost operator’s course. The inmates are going to be able to teach about 30 a month,” said Nauman.
The offenders will be trained and certified to teach others to compost. Barnes hires many of these individuals from the institution, according to Nauman.
“We have some best management practices going on here, with how our compost is used, that would benefit the agricultural community,” said Schantz. “This could be a training facility. [Agricultural organizations] might even hire an ex-offender out of here to work on their Ag operation.” Schantz is on the private side of the partnership and manages of all the composting and recycling activities for Barnes. He said that the Allen-Oakwood correctional work is about one-third of the work Barnes does.
The Barnes compost facility is 23 years old in Erie County. “We manage compost operations for various municipalities and counties throughout northern Ohio,” said Schantz. “Material for [Allen-Oakwood] facility comes from about a five-county area, Allen County and surrounding counties.”
Schantz said that this helps water quality in several ways. “One, we’re composting on the roof, so our active composting in our receiving area does not create runoff,” said Schantz. “We’re capturing everything, or it doesn’t happen.”
“The carbon is where we take the farm ground…because we’re sitting within the Lake Erie basin and the Great Lakes St. Mary’s basin on this farm, from our years of cattle here, our fertilization levels are high…so we planted a medium red and alpium rye grass that helps take that out,” said Nauman.
They bale this grass into hay and that goes into the compost as the carbon source, which is the 60 part of the ratio. The rest of the 40 percent ratio is what they gather from the institution and whatever Barnes sources for them.
The facility also produces large socks with compost that are used at construction projects and as an alternative in a silt fence. The material is biodegradable and will disintegrate. “There is no disposal of it. It goes out, does its job and then winds up part of the landscape,” said Schantz.
They tend to be used in the oil fields in southeast Ohio.
“We’re taking this [compost program] to London [OH] correctional. We’re trying to put it into Warren County, Lebanon correctional, Marion correctional — any place that had a farm in the state of Ohio — the goal is to put one in these areas,” said Nauman.
“It repurposes, it makes sense for the taxpayers,” said Numan.
For more information about Allen-Oakwood visit: drc.ohio.gov/aoci
For more information about Andre Farms visit: www.andrefarms.com