Top Ten Episodes of Organic Gardener Podcast: replay of 143. DIRTRich Composting and Food Scrap Pickup | Alissa LaChance | Columbia Falls, MT

Don Rosenberg and I spoke a lot about healthy soil in your garden in episode 157. I thought replaying Alissa’s episode about using compost to make healthy soil might inspire people as well and complimented that interview really well. I’m pretty sure it’s the MOST downloaded episode of the Organic Gardener Podcast certainly in 2016. It’s from June of this year and already closing in on 2000 downloads! I have another great interview I did this weekend although it’s not edited yet that I think you will enjoy I’ll try to get posted next weekend! Thanks for listening!

Full show notes will be done and posted at the soon!! Thanks for your patience this spring as I try to keep the podcast going while working many many hours! But gotta work while the work is there!

Have a great day all you Green Future Growers!!!

Dirt Rich Composting for healthy soil Alissa LaChance

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m 26 grew up in Whitefish MT, left traveled for a while after high school. I ended up deciding I want to go to school so I went to Missoula for an EVST degree.


UMT EVST Sustainable Agriculture Emphasis

started farming for about 7 years, sustainable ag, sector of the EVST degree. I moved back here right after my degree. I started this company with a partner, Rachel Gerber, she had the idea and I had the push foward and we started. We immediately got a contract with Xanterra the concessionaire of Glacier National Park right away.!

Wow! That’s great taht the people in charge of guests to Glacier National Park. What are they are in charge of when people come and stay at the lodge right?

So I kind of had to figured it out myself, they are a separate entity then the National Park Service, separate that has to run all the lodges and restaurants within Glacier National Park. They provide the services.

So tell us a little bit about the business. 


So right now the business model itself is based of the compost product, focused on perennials and annuals as I go. I’m still learning as I go but we have some pretty solid product coming out.

Food-scrap pick-up service

Also we wanted to provide a food scrap pick-up service really great rich source of compost to the blley as well as a food scrap pick up service because there is really no option for composting your food scraps unless you do it yourself and we live in a wildlife corridor so that can create problems.

So a food-scrap pick up? Waht does that entail you go to homes, commerical hospitals? Schools? etc?

So right now we offer residential and commercial pick-up service. WE really just have a couple of handfuls of residential customers.

We pick up once a week. I provide them with a 5 gallon bucket and compostable liner each week.

They do the cleaning out of the bucket, I pikc up their sraps and provide a new bio bag, residential… bio bag, depending on where they live 20-30$ a month.

Essentially we’re losing money on that, it’s just to provie and option for the community if they don’t have time to compost scraps and don’t want to throw it away.

the more, the sustenance, what provides us with the financial ability to survive as a business is  the commercial

food scrap

throughout the season, when I have the time,

to reach out to different restaurants. Hey, this is what we are doing

[provide with a  48 gallon or 32 gallon bin depending on how much  space thy have and how much food they produce

  • food scraps
  • each week we pick up
  • 3 times,
  • clean food bins
  • jsut do everything
  • make the service as simple as possible

transitions especially in this kind of area

more sustainable and relatively alternative here an option such as food scrap

you have to make it as easy as possible

it’s a really solid system

we take their food scraps 3 times a week and compost them!

I happen to be working up here at a golf course. I love the people my boss is super nice, and they have been letting me and one of the oteher cooks take home the recylcing compost, egg shells, lettuce… they were like we don’t care if you want to that’s great! I’ve been to toeh places where people were concerned about stealing food, but when I see the waste if someone hasn’t saved it when I get there…. to me it’s like throwing gold in the garbage on the golf course they are doing tons of landscaping and there are beds etc everywhere and because it’s a golf course and club house they don’t have a ton of business but it’s gonna pick up but they still already use a ton of compostable produce. On top of that we haul our garbage to Troy 65 miles away! So then do people in turn, the people you pick it up from, do they buy the compost or use it again?

That is the hope that they will evenetually…  Emmanual Lutheran and Buffalo Hills retirement communities…

Chef Nelson is awesome and really forward thinking and is hoping to be buying back our composts eventually and plant some kind of garden  to suplement their produce…

Did you see that new garden it’s like a community garden by Glacier Bank on the back road by FVCC right there by Buffalo Hills right by the Blue Cow and the back road… I just happened to see some guy planting… they might want your compost… So how did that go reaching out to chefs I’ve been thinking about that? Reading Curtis stone’s book and The Farm on the Roof and thinking about reaching out to chefs? 

You mean talking to chefs about the food pick up program…. IT’s been really mixed, it’s interesting a lot of people are excited about it! Some chefs are so on!

I learned multiple different things, they’re not in control of the finances so they have to go through people who are coming to

comes down to the bottom line and they say “no. ” Unless you have chefs who are really passionate about it

who have more say then other restaurants

that’s been initially uncomfortable part, so…

That’s why I asked… becasue it’s uncomforatble for me…

Initially the reaction was, “Oh! It’s a salesman” but I don’t see myself as a salesman, but I could see that questions coming up, at first it made me really uncomfortable the first t6 months my partner did it, but so I recently bought here out of the company

But now, I feel very confident and comfortable, I have had enough restaurants sign on, I know that they would be excited once it started going!

and their employees were happy and encouraged taht their employer was making this decision and wasn’t just about the bottom line, it’s encouraging for people because it’s always just their bosses as cheap as possible

they feel like they are doing something good, and that the food doesn’t stink and it’s not a huge inconvenience, because the system is really solid. It’s become easier for me that I am much more confident in my abilities and the system that we were providing. More confident in the product that we are producing. 

That part had me a little worried, we’re just about a year old, this was the first season where people were calling me for product.

I’m so proud of you, I think we agree all really nervous in the beginning, you’re a really nice forward thinking rockstar millenials I’m always talking about. Now tell us about the product!

I’m really following  Dr. Elaine Ingham taking a lot of her online courses

Soil Food Website and Community

I’m really trying to focus on spreading the word throughout the community and focusing on my product that’s based on the biology of the compost reacher then the chemical makeup.

So many generations in ag has focused more on that. I want to bring it back to the life in the soil, that’s what’s driving to grow our food in a more sustainable way.

We are selling perennial compost and annual compost.

Perennial Compost

  • 1/2 wood chips
  • food scraps
  • grass clippings
  • leaves
  • manure

The perennial’s generally like soil that is more fungal dominated. So some piles are much more wood chip based, those are the perennial piles. Probably the carbon material that we use is 1/2 wood chips in the perennial piles.

In the annual piles is 1/6 or a 1/7 wood chip, the rest of whats in the perennial piles is obviously

  • food scraps
  • grass clippings
  • leaves
  • manure

what is being brought to us from the community, and needs to be composted. So that is what else we offer to the people of Columbia Falls and thoroughout the Flathead Valley is a site to bring their waste material and organic scraps that they don’t want to throw into the landfill and don’t want to take the time to burn. We have a gravel pit set up that is used all constantly every day summer long.

  • landscapers
  • everyone drops off
  • grass clippings
  • garden cutback that they don’t want to throw away
  • hay

We use what ever we have the most of we try to make sure that what comes in has not … we put out there that we don’t’ want to use anything that has been treated with pesticides and herbicides but it’s hard to regulate so we use whatever. I also reach out to farmers and ranchers… and get old hay, whatever we’re not receiving … to supplement…

do you know landscapers who know who doesn’t use chemicals…

I’ve definitely talked to a lot of people… some people tat I drop off and I don’t know … most I have had a lot of contact with them…. I ask them to make sure that’s it’s been at least a year. A lot of landscapers they do keep track, they’re close with their clients and customers and they say for my own business, encouraging them to do that…

Is there anything I’m forgetting? Want to mention? Where are you getting this land?

We have a couple of investors, that’s what we should talk about is the the political aspect or this.

Perfect becasue today’s election day.

In Montana, throughout this process, it’s incredibly challenging to start a food scrap composting company, so it’s become somewhat of a political I dont’ watnt to call it a battle but a challenge IDK if other people have tried to do what we are doing or I’m doing I know none else is doing it is. If I had to grt a bank loan. If I did not have startup loan and private investors

not enough

too unpredictable for a bank

too unknown

as far as regulation

working with the DEQ has been an absolute nightmare

doing the best they can

doing their job

no category for something like this

the large composter permit

small composers permit

we’re both pretty smart intelligent women

signing up for a small composter’s permit

based off your size, how much your processing

what your accepting and located

we fall into that category

low cost just processing the application

we sent that tin originally

imagine us  trying to =get that into together

to get this contract with Xanterra

wanted this for the Valley

waited months to hear back form the DEQ,

impossible to get a hold of them, most of the time,

the small composters

move on


then about a month later,

hey, you’re not gonna fit into the small composter

essentially like applying to be a landfill

pay about $7k

mind you we are composting on 2 acres

municipal compositing

annual upwards of $2k

that’s make or break

I held out for as long as I could

you should not be putting this kind of

fiscal burden on

to be encouraging businesses like this to be flourishing


leaching if

people aren’t composting correctly

could effect people’s water supply

I met with Jon Tester

a while a go for  young entrepreneurs roundtable

this is a huge issue

that sounds’ crazy

said something along the lines of the regulation and the fees involved

should be along the same level of risk

imposed upon the community

just so everybody knows that’s a huge issue

very smart,


who wants to start something like this

doesn’t know if

still waiting and

trying to be as present

shift these guidelines

so that it’s more encouraging these operations

in a responsible way, people who know what they are going,

high nitrogen content

nitrogen leaking into the underground water system

any kind of phosphorous

I am only a person is doing something I’m passionate about

they’re lining these beds with these liners

that are sup[used to help with leaches

the local landfill

working on such a massive scale with so much waste

its impossible not to have issues

when you are throwing these things like food scraps

which is 35-75% food scraps


should be used for something important for the community


if there is not enough air

or covered with

the environment goes anaerobic, which means there’s not enough air in these systems

they become aerobic, that is the worst, bacterial fungal, any time of microbial friends, or attachments to those food wastes


that’s why it’s so important to keep compost piles

essentially creating toxic sludge in the landfill

really general

heated word

it’s not beneficial

it can

methane gas that gets released

one of the biggest issues

Flathead has a whole system for capturing the methane

to use to power some of their

often inefficient

lose a lot of methane

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

They still try sometimes, get frustrated and stop. My first gardening experience started about 17 my good friend Kaley Brown and some others, got into gardening, trying to get to gather and experiment it was fun. Mostly vegetable, grow our food… see what it gook ,initially it was intimidating. as a new gardener I have no idea what I’m doing

with friends we can

might have been even later

one specific place

friends parents piece of land

near us

go ahead grow a garden

owned this land

just outside of town

my 2 friends started a garden out there and it caught on with me, some at my house….

How did you learn how to garden organically?

Yeah, it’s been a really long process

I’m a big proponent of trying ti yourself, screwing up a lot, reading,

seeing what

that didn’t work? Why?

it wasn’t right for that soil, this climate? Maybe I didn’t’ harden  off

some experience at the peas farm, at the college….

Tell us about something that grew well this year.

It varies from year to year, I got a stupid amount of squash, it’s not necessarily that has grown well for me,

how much do I actually ned to grow

how many plants to I need

i still have squash…

Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

I’ve been getting more interested in getting more


looking at the different options of their seeds

and trying to

trying to carry a lot more medicinals, they carry some awesome stuff

experimenting more with mdieincialsk




cultivating my own medicinal medicines and plants …

I feel like that

Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.

I still I’ll just keep coming back, what didn’t grow so well, heat loving plants, I got some peppers, but they were puny, I don’t have any heated

toppers or anything that creates the heat.

they were like meh,

i feel like they

what do I need to grow, what do I like to eat

what’s gonna sustain me over the winter


grounding the medicinal

is that gonna be a summer thing

what kind of things do I need for the springtime

where I’m picking it,

preserving things for the spring

getting the big picture idea

in Whitefish, it’s expensive to use water

almost too expensive to grow a garden

talking to local people about that, it’s an issue

anything to becomes


Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.

Sure, this may sound funny, but planting seeds,

that is the least enjoyable part for me,

painting is fine

mm[millennials, ok, I’m gonna spend some time planting…

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.

Everything else I love… I love, harvesting is cool. it’s on the back burner

if I’m gonna be drying it,

not even thinking about it

if I’m planning

the recipe I’m gonna can

I actually really like weeding and providing

setting up a little systems

that looks beautiful


What is the best gardening advice you have  ever received?

Ummmm… actually that is probably the best advice I have received

my ex, former business partner,

very good friends since kindergarten

last year she said you should really try

really thick mulching with hay.

and she said its’ gonna make things easier

ti’s completely changed the way I garden

people including myself that want to have a pretty garden and looks manicured

when I start using much

it completely changed my garden

who everything grew

water it retained

the amount of effort I had to use t

weight and effort

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

4 I’m not much of a tool person,

I use my hands a lot

my shovel

getting out

a lot of people living with me,


random medicinal things

burdock root, if I didn’t have my huge shovel,

burdock tap-roots….

A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?

I love the different tomato sauces

especially the tomatillo based sauces

I have them 3-4 basic

throw together what I feel like eating

and addd some cooling or heating spices

baking,  with the onions in there too

charring with almost

maybe a little lemon and herbs


I don’t think I actually did the foil, cookie sheet, 20-30 minutes

blacken a little bit

A favorite internet resource?

the internet is just so vast, just type in whatever my question is

and I intuitively go tot he tone that works best of me

if I was to say hey check this out

I really don’t have one that


there’s so may gardeners and homesteaders an posting such amazing info and plethora of ideas.

one of them offered and see what works for you…

A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?

Such a soil junkie

I compost for a living

it’s changed so much for me in my life and in greener

I was so focused on the plants

I read a lot of soil books. The one that I would recommend.

Any books regarding

If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?

I have had multiple different people from MT or OR ask me, can you give mentor me, give me some ideas or insights

I thought about that a little bit, it’s hard to give people

step by step thing I could give

there really isn’t my specific instance

this young man in Bozeman is experiencing

Xanterra reaching out to us saying hay we want you to compost your food scraps

to get the big transfusions of funds going immediately

this guy in Bozeman is looking at and talking to the waste management people and municipalities in Bozeman

and work with them for pickup

if he would do all the composting

so many different ways to approach it

do your research a lot of money, time and passion invested into this

i wouldn’t have it any way

a lot more  a of a commitment

barriers of people

that’s why more people have to

push that envelope a bit


that this is omitting important

want to be composting their food scraps and servant their food scraps

do your research

if you fail. what are you failing at, your failing at this idea of what you thought your’e doing, you may be punching another hole in the barrier!

Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

Agriculture is such a obvious staple for humanity,

how they’re effecting the eco systems around them

what they’re using on these crops and how they are affecting pollinators

our success as human sand ag providers

looking at our food shed

actually reading book


feel like that is a really important thing for us

as a society to be tackling right now!

huge explosion in farmer’s markets

now that we’ve gotten there what’s the most efficient

regional food for our community what size of operations

what kind of produce are we growing and where

I’m not a proponent of just small scale of

tiny produce for a community

looking at different scales and combinations

looking at food hubs

working with Casey Anderson

he’s a young

the produce depot

missing link that we have

in the Flathead Valley

farming all over the valley

and grow and market and distribute that food

huge issue in this community

he’s importing food from spoken and Washington and he’s really interested in keeping the money in the community

working together to come up with this system and

people who want to farm

and growing enough food

provide the greater flathead valley

supplementing greens from California

just looking at the food shed

the bigger picture

[pesticides and herbicides and

food shed and

full circle of distribution

house armer


me completing the secede

turing tit back into nutrients

looking at the whole cycle

it doesn’t make sense for the mid scale

too expensive

hurting to

if it’s to some Mexican migrant picking it

how it effects the environment

those things

I’ve been trying to come up with a name for my audience, Ive been thinking about

Green Future Growers

because they’re growing a greener future!

you’re definitely a green future grower

I did meet Casey Anderson, I did get his phone number

It’s funny, I have no business cards, it’s funny the graphic designer I’ve made so many business cards, but I don’t ave any for me.

I do love that he’s trying to

Do you just want to explain really quick wheat’s a food shed? Like a water shed but where we grow our food…?


Food-shed, a play off of watershed. That’s what I’ve been trying to illustrate for people in the area, the whole cycle, nutrients and the actions that take place in a region or

a town,

a community

a county what have you…

I like to start with the farmers

who’s growing your food?

that part of the food shed.

That part of what what makes up…



and what

is providing the making up the food that we eat in the vicinity

the farmers

them growing

how they’re growing it

the distributers

in this case, what Casey’s trying to fill

even minor details like

what truck is being used to pick up that produce?

how ware we getting that produce from farmer to distributer. Because if farmers are driving their old crispy

understandable why they own them

if all those farmers are taking their trucks and

a lot of larger scale operations

how much crap are we giving them

how are we

efficient are they at providing what we need

provide w

a stream and direction

that is efficient and effective at reinvigorating these communities

moving on from the farmer

how are they distributing

is it being processes

is it meant

is it becoming a sauce dan not just a whole food
getting more processing centers in our region

whatever kin of product

processed out of state

professing our “value-added”food

gonna provide jobs and closer more intimate outlet

people who are trying to create products

how are they distributing and where are they

how are they using it

are they thinking seasonally

are they trying to adjust

tomato dinner in the middle of winter

looking at this big pitcher

who’s taking hat waste

and what’s being done with it

taking all the nutrients


nitrogen, phosphorus

that hasn’t been used

being efficient and grow in a smart way for our communities

looking t the food shed is large scale

a town perfects…

Do you have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?

Just simple it will change your life for the better… 

How do we connect with you?

I have a Facebook page, I’m excited I’m working on a website with some young business photographers, and website designers in the

at the farmer’s market

just happy to connect with people

about questions or ideas….

Whatever they’re needing …

The Organic Gardener Podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

If you like what you heard on the Organic Gardener Podcast we’d love it if you’d give us review and hopefully a 5 star rating on iTunes so other gardeners can find us and listen to. Just click on the link here.

About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

Leave a Comment