MIDDLETOWN — Municipal officials in Middletown have announced a partnership with High Time Farm in Somerset County to conduct testing on the compost the township creates through its leaf collection as a viable organic soil amendment.
This is the first pilot program of its kind in New Jersey and the results could be an important step toward moving away from harsh chemical fertilizers to grow plants, according to a press release from the township.
This year-long pilot program is part of Middletown’s ongoing commitment to find ways to increase sustainability in an economical way, according to the press release.
“Last year, Middletown was the first municipality in the state to invest in a (plastic foam) recycling machine and we look to build upon our environmental successes with this program,” Mayor Tony Perry said.
The results of the study will help municipal officials determine how residents’ leaves can be transformed into a regenerative soil amendment for land across town.
“This will enable us to potentially eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers and it is more cost-effective,” Perry said.
The partnership began when the New Jersey Composting Council (NJCC) introduced Middletown Sustainability Manager Amy Sarrinikolaou to a fellow member, Stacy Vogel of Homestead Slow Food in Pottersville, to discuss using Middletown’s compost as a soil amendment for her farming soil rehabilitation needs, according to the press release.
“Middletown seemed like the perfect partner because as a fully certified Class C recycling facility, the township has a large enough leaf recycling operation to provide what I would need for my crop testing,” Vogel said. “They can also screen the compost, making it usable as an excellent and natural source of nutrition for crops, flowers and lawns.”
After initial quality testing, Vogel and Middletown officials were able to work out the parameters and goals of the program, according to the press release.
Middletown will provide approximately 800 cubic yards of compost toward Vogel’s pilot program.
In return, Vogel, supported by the NJCC, will provide the advanced testing results, drone footage and documentation throughout the trial.
The goal of the testing is to demonstrate the viability of organic, all-natural compost as a replacement for synthetic fertilizer when growing crops, according to the press release.
Composting has been shown to have multiple benefits from soil porosity, nutrient uptake, pathogen destruction and disease suppression for crops.
“If the testing concludes, as expected, that our compost does in fact improve soil quality as well as crop quality, it will have tremendous implications for the agriculture of New Jersey and beyond,” Sarrinikolaou said.
“Rather than thinking of our leaves as waste, it can be repurposed to improve the growth rate and quality of crops, flower gardens and yards, as well as eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers which are currently being used to provide the soil with nutrients,” Sarrinikolaou said.
During the project there will be several testing sites on the farm and a control group to determine how the crops using compost as a soil amendment perform in comparison to those that do not.
There will also be soil testing throughout the process to determine how the compost application improves the overall quality of the soil, according to the press release.
Beginning in August, Middletown will be offering screened compost to residents at no cost. The screened compost can be used as a natural way to repair and enhance yards. Interested individuals may visit www.middletownnj.org for updates.