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Eco-tip: Compost contest winners motivated by education

May 1, 2021

David Goldstein

Special to Ventura County Star

When curbside service makes it so easy to send yard clippings away for processing, and when you can easily buy compost or mulch as needed, why are many people so dedicated to do-it-yourself composting, keeping their materials on-site?

Many answers come from the 56 entrants in last week’s Ventura County Compost Cup competition, a project of the Ventura County Compost Network. The network includes over a dozen private companies and nonprofits involved in local composting.

For Laura Erlig and the staff at One Spark Academy in Thousand Oaks, composting provides an educational opportunity. One Spark Academy, which serves middle school-age homeschooled and independent study students, has maintained a garden for many years.

When learning shifted online and outdoors, the program built an outdoor garden classroom at the Las Flores Community Garden. For students in “Seeds & Sprouts,” as the gardening class is called, composting remained a major focus of their studies.

Following social distance protocols and wearing masks, students have met weekly at the garden to maintain vermicompost boxes and compost bins, while tending raised vegetable beds, a weeping mulberry tree and other plants. The food they grew was then used in their cooking class, “Food Fascination.”

One Spark Academy won first place in the vermiculture category for schools and community gardens. Prizes, which Erlig will use for the school garden, include mulch from Agromin or Peach Hill Soils, biochar from Blue Sky Biochar, castings from Organic Solution Soil Amendments, and a $50 gift certificate to Green Thumb Nursery, which will be applied to trowels, hoop covers for seedlings and starter plants.

Education was also part of the reason why another Compost Cup winner, Maria Jones of Oxnard, started backyard composting three decades ago. Jones had just moved from a condominium to a house and was eager start gardening. Encouraged by results she saw in Organic Gardening magazine, she thought composting would be a great way to help her children learn about “nature, planting and growing.”

As Jones began composting, using one compost bin she got from the city of Oxnard and another bin given to her by a neighbor, her son, Colin, came home from Our Redeemer Preschool excited to tell her about worm composting his teacher started in his classroom.

With a worm box from the city of Oxnard, students were composting their apple cores, banana peels, carrot tops and other food scraps. Colin was eager to also compost at home, and composting became a mother-son activity that has bonded the two ever since.

Even after moving out, Colin, now 31 and a welder, still helps his mom. For winning the Compost Cup in the residential category, among other prizes, the Jones Family will receive a backpack with a built-in folding solar panel, capable of charging a cell phone and other electronic devices simultaneously, donated by, of Ventura, a company marketing reusable business electronics.

More eco-tips: Precautions, advice for wildlife encounters in Ventura County

If you are interested in starting composting with your children, Sunday, from 10 a.m. until supplies run out, the Museum of Ventura County, in Ventura is hosting a “Grab & Go Bags drive-thru giveaway.”

Bags contain many tools for environmental education, including “Compost Circle of Life” and “Composting at Home” guides with activities. Enter from Santa Clara Street, pick up your bag, and you could win a LEGO Play-Well TEKnologies Summer Camp Scholarship. Masks, sanitation stations and social distancing will be observed.

Senate Bill 1383, of 2016, might give many more businesses or institutions a reason to try on-site composting.

Over the next few years, state mandates will require any entity generating yard waste or food waste in sufficient amounts to use and pay for separate bins for compost collection. Businesses and institutions composting their material on site may qualify for a “de minimis exemption.”

You can join the County’s stakeholder notification list to find out about upcoming organics ordinance changes and related information at

Other resources:




David Goldstein is an environmental resource analyst with Ventura County Public Works Agency and may be reached at 805-658-4312 or

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