Full Circle

by | May 23, 2024 | Around Town, Hampstead, Surf City

Thanks to Wilmington Compost Company, food waste from Ocean Fest in Surf City is now transforming into usable compost at Piney Run Farms near Hampstead.

At the 2023 Ocean Fest, the award-winning celebration of Mother Ocean in Surf City, things got down — and dirty.

More than 8,000 people celebrated with great music, sharp surfing and lots of delicious eats at the October event. At the end of the day, Wilmington Compost Company collected all the food waste from the festival — chips, half-eaten French fries, last bites of chili dogs and more — and took it to their farm, Piney Run Farms, near Hampstead. There, it is slowly curing, becoming a quarter ton of compost for local gardens and farms.

Riley Alber and Trey Alber of the family-owned Wilmington Compost Company worked with two volunteer leaders of Ocean Fest, Sustainability and EcoZone Coordinator Jan Famer and Waste Management and Education Manager Ryan Doehrmann, to make sure all the compostable and recyclable items made it into the correct bins spread throughout the music, food, vendor and EcoZone areas. This made it easy for festivalgoers to dispose of waste properly. And they did — almost twice the 2022 amount.

Wilmington Compost Co

Wilmington Compost Company collected nearly 800 pounds of compostable waste from Ocean Fest. In four to six months that food waste will become two cubic yards of finished, cured compost — enough to fill a pickup truck bed.

The annual Ocean Fest celebration teaches attendees about cleaning, protecting and restoring the ocean and sustainable living on the earth.

“We want everyone not just talk about it and do it, but to personify it, to embody it,” Famer says. “We look for ways to operate the festival cleaner and greener, and we’re constantly looking at how to address sustainability. Composting food waste and other waste is just one way of walking the ecological talk.”

Ocean Fest would love to be a zero-waste festival. Each year that comes closer as attendees fill bins and accolades follow behaviors. At the Southeast Festival and Events Association, Ocean Fest won the top prize for an eco festival, the Green Initiative Award, says Ocean Fest founder Mark Anders. In recent years, the festival also helped vendors find more sustainable products and processes. The site is not closed, though, so organizers cannot control other waste that is brought in.

Terra Vita Farm Wilmington Compost

Doehrmann enjoyed volunteering security the previous year so much that he agreed to organize nearly 50 “waste warriors” as those volunteers were called. Previously Farmer had done both jobs.

“I like how passionate all the volunteers are about sustainability, keeping the ocean clean, giving back to the community,” Doehrmann says. “We were educated on what is compostable, strategies to help people recycle and how to educate them. All our waste warriors were trained and had cheat sheets to remind folks what was compostable, recyclable and trash.”

“I like that the funds raised are donated; that the money has a positive impact on Mother Ocean,” Doehrmann adds. “It’s about future generations. I want my kid to be able to swim and surf and enjoy the ocean.”

Funds raised at Ocean Fest fund like-minded nonprofit organizations working to protect the environment. Since 2019 Ocean Fest has granted more than $115,000 to local, regional and national nonprofit organizations supporting the ocean and clean environments, including N.C. Coastal Federation, Plastic Ocean Project/ UNCW, Surfrider Foundation, N.C. Aquariums, Coastal Carolina Riverwatch, Sustainable Surf/Sea Trees, Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue, Audubon N.C., Ocean City Beach Citizens Council, Coastal Conservation Association of N.C. ECO Topsail and Oceana.

Terra Vita Farm Wilmington Compost Co

At Ocean Fest as much waste as possible was diverted from landfills — cardboard, aluminum cans, and plastics — through recycling. Neighbors helped. Cardboard boxes were flattened and taken to the IGA for recycling. Plastic bags were taken to UNCW for films recycling. A few trash bins were filled, keeping non-compostable or recyclable items out of the ocean, or littering the streets.

Many festival attendees were curious about the EcoZone, sponsored by A New Earth Project, an initiative of Wilmington-based Atlantic Packaging that focuses on reducing plastic pollution in packaging (anewearthproject.com). Employees and volunteers from many environmental organizations shared knowledge and helped individuals understand ways in which each person can contribute to a clean and healthy coastal environment. Eco Topsail and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation were among this year’s participants.

At Wilmington Compost Company’s Piney Run Farms, the Ocean Fest collections were added to other compostable materials from households, businesses and events across a two-county area.

Compost in various stages of cooking is carefully turned and its temperature monitored, according to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality regulations. Large piles of tree and vegetative waste resemble giant Hershey’s Kisses.

Riley Alber, a graduate of the UNCW environmental sciences program, points out several areas where natural pollinator gardens are interspersed with three ponds and hills of compost. The Alber brothers also have 48 beehives in an apiary on the back near the property line.

Terra Vita Farm NC

“We have a good drainage ditch system here and a perfect location for pollinator spots,” he says. “The ponds are well stocked. My girlfriend caught the largest fish – a 10.5-pound largemouth bass,” he says, surveying the natural land.

Alber says his love of the land arose from his childhood in New Jersey, where he and his brother could roam freely among meadows and woods owned by his grandparents.

On the back side of Piney Run Farms, the quiet side, without active compost piles, there are trails used by a neighbor’s horse-riding tours. Two barns sit near garden vegetable space used to research soils by varying growing methods and monitoring yields.

These areas help educate people about the benefits of a closed-loop system, recycling organic matter and its nutrients back into the soil, eventually growing healthy food, Alber says.

Schoolkids love visiting the farm, and it is clear Alber enjoys sharing his knowledge about soil health and his hopes for a cleaner world. Wilmington Compost Company provides homeowners, businesses and event sponsors with composting services.

Photography by Daria Amato

About the author

Kate Carey

Kate Carey

A former Ohioan and Buckeyes football fan, Kate M Carey has her toes firmly placed in the sands of Topsail Island. Kate writes fiction about people and the strange things they do for love and essays on the politics of everyday life. Her work has appeared in Noctua, Indiana Voice, The Tishman Review, Panoply, Camel City Digest, Savannah Writers Anthology, and County Line Journal. A guest columnist for Women AdvaNCe, she and her husband, an Episcopal priest, moved to North Carolina in 2015 and have adult children living in Ohio and Florida.