Ocean Friendly Gardens, Water Quality
January 07 2019

New Ocean Friendly Garden Composting Program in Isla Vista, CA

by Jessica Bixby

As Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Gardens program turns 10 this year, it’s amazing to see the direction that our chapters have taken this program to make their communities more sustainable and Ocean Friendly.  What started as a small, targeted effort in Southern California to provide simple solutions to urban runoff and water conservation needs, has grown into a diverse program that chapters are using across the country to tackle the water quality and supply issues of most importance in their communities.  

At the core of Surfrider's diverse chapter-run Ocean Friendly Gardens programs, are the basic concepts of building healthy soil naturally, using native and climate appropriate plants, and shaping our gardens and landscapes to soak up rain and slow down the flow of runoff to protect clean water. In California, the Isla Vista Surfrider Chapter’s Ocean Friendly Garden Committee has decided to put their efforts into providing good opportunities for their local community to build healthy soil through a new composting initiative.  Learn more about this awesome program being run by students at the University of California Santa Barbara below. 

The Isla Vista Surfrider Compost Collective’s Dirtriders!
By Jessica Bixby, Isla Vista Ocean Friendly Garden Intern

The Isla Vista Surfrider Compost Collective (Dirtriders) has just finished up our first trial during the fall of 2018 serving twenty houses in Isla Vista! This past quarter, we diverted 1,760 pounds of food scraps from overflowing landfills and put it to good use to nurture our beautiful, local environment. In 2019, we will expand our trial to serve forty houses, doubling our impact. Not only does this project help to build healthy soil, it is helping the residents of Isla Vista become more aware of their food waste impact. The Isla Vista Ocean Friendly Garden Committee started this program during the fall of 2017 because there were very little composting opportunities available locally.  It has been exciting to interact with people in Isla Vista who are learning about ways to become more environmentally conscious, starting with achievable steps that our Compost Collective has fostered!

To sum up the efforts and process of this program thus far, we are running a system that involves student workers, some good old buckets, and an organized weekly method. Each rider, using a bicycle attached with a cart, has a scheduled route of houses that they pick up food scraps from and deliver a clean bucket on a specific day every week. We are lucky enough to occupy space at Estero Park Community Gardens Project from the Isla Vista Recreation & Park District, where we store the bike and cart, buckets, and environmentally-friendly cleaning materials. With group messages and email communication, we keep in constant contact with the participating households with reminders and updates on their weekly impact to keep them stoked! This helps educate the students and families on how to manage their food waste by knowing what is compostable versus what is not. Our generous, current funding from Coastal Fund will aid us through the end of spring, supplying student workers with stipends at the end of each quarter, to reward them for their hard work and sweat equity and to keep them accountable. This system is a work in progress and we are always finding new ways to improve our methods to hopefully create a model composting program that other communities can work to implement.

An OFG intern/Dirtrider weighs household foodscraps collected after her pick-up run

Our local partners at Isla Vista Recreation & Park District and Marborg Industries, have made it possible to implement the Compost Collective through their generous donation of space and composting services. The food scraps collected from the participating households will ultimately be spread across the cropland in Santa Barbara County by Marborg’s waste management services, minimizing the need for chemical fertilizers while providing a variety of trace minerals and other nutrients for the soil that are not available in chemical fertilizers. This will help us meet our Ocean Friendly Garden’s mission of eliminating the runoff of these chemical fertilizers into the ocean. 

In addition, our compost collective is also striving to reduce the buildup of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from the organic waste that enter landfills. The organic waste decomposes anaerobically into methane at municipal facilities, and and even though some landfills, such as the Tajiguas Landfill, capture methane and transform it into carbon dioxide and energy, methane leakage still occurs.  By diverting organic waste from the landfill and allowing it to decompose in the presence of oxygen through composting, we are also reducing the amount of methane that our community (Isla Vista) contributes to the atmosphere and its subsequent contribution to global ocean warming! Learn more about this benefit here.

We are also beginning to utilize the collected food scraps for gardens in Isla Vista such as the Edible Campus Program, so our impact can become even more local and interactive with our community. The Edible Campus Program, part of UC Santa Barbara Sustainability, is taking steps to address local food insecurity through repurposing underutilized locations for sustainable food production, turning waste into food, and engaging students as growers and producers. This year we plan on applying more of our compost towards this program to create a closed loop system that applies food waste generated by students to in turn build healthy soil to grow more food on campus.  

We, the Isla Vista Surfrider Compost Collective, are working hard towards reutilizing organic waste to help save the planet, one community at a time! The interns of OFG for the Isla Vista Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation are working hard to create sustainable change by partnering with our lovely community, and we are looking forward to continue expanding and growing as an organization in 2019. A big part of this growth is continuing to push towards more sustainability, efficiency, and accountability within our system; it has been a big learning process for our interns and riders thus far. We aim for this project to become regenerative within the Isla Vista community so there is eventually access for all residents and college students to simply begin learning and practicing composting! 

Intro by Mara Dias, Water Quality Manager