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Class covers the art and trade of composting

Teacher hopes to clear up concerns

Muriel Williman likes to open a can of worms during her compost classes — literally.

“I’ll come to a location to start a pile with almost 25 to 30 gallons of materials,” she said. “But I also like to bring my bin of worms as a visual demonstration of the fundamentals of composting.”

Williman, the education and outreach coordinator for Orange County’s Solid Waste Department, will hold a class today at 3:30 p.m. at the Carolina Campus Community Garden demonstrating how to build a compost pile.

Williman has worked for the county for 10 years and learned the compost trade during college, where she grew organic materials in her unused kitchen sink.

“I learned a lot about what not to do during those years,” she said. “But because of it, I also believe that anyone can make compost anywhere.”

Before a class is held, Williman gathers the necessary materials to create the perfect compost pile.

Williman said compost piles need four basic ingredients — carbon, nitrogen, water and air — all materials easily found at home or around town.

Williman gets all her materials from within a three-mile radius of the pile.

Unsold produce from Weaver Street Market, Open Eye Café’s coffee grounds, Carrboro’s leaf piles and horse manure are Williman’s main ingredients.

Aside from creating an actual compost pile during her classes, Williman answers general questions and concerns about how to manage compost piles and clears up common compost misconceptions.

“I was mortified when people talked about what they’ve heard,” she said. “I can dispel some stupid myths.”

Williman said because the area doesn’t have a municipal compost program, she tries to work with participants on an individual basis.

“I try to make sure I cover everything so everyone goes away feeling satisfied,” she said.

The compost classes are always free of charge, and compost bins, called “earth machines”, are sold during the classes for $50.

Solid Waste Manager Blair Pollock said despite some low attendance, the classes are valuable lessons on how to divert usable resources from just sitting in a landfill.

“You might say four people isn’t a lot, but it’s a potent force if you have four new people getting things out of landfills,” Pollock said.

“Muriel has made these classes the cornerstone of her work, and we consider every class successful on one level or another.”

Brian Rosa, an organic recycling specialist for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, has also been teaching classes on compost for 22 years.

Rosa does compost workshops with communities and commercial businesses in North Carolina and travels on his own time outside the state and country.

He said there has been a steadily increasing interest in backyard composting.

“What’s happening is that different communities are looking at it, particularly rural ones,” Rosa said. “People are concerned about food waste.”

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