NEW JERSEY:  Many local residents will soon reap the rewards of what for many homeowners, is countless hours of raking leaves!  Now those leaves are repurposed, and can return to benefit the residents. What not long ago was just a discussion between two NJ Composting Council members is now an economically sustainable and environmentally smart partnership to benefit taxpayers.

The Township of Middletown formed a partnership with High Time Farm in Somerset County, to conduct testing on the compost the Township creates through its leaf collection. The results are a viable organic soil amendment. According to Middletown Township officials, "This is the first pilot program of its kind in the State of New Jersey and the results could be an important step towards moving away from chemical fertilizers to grow plants."

WATCH: You can hear from Mayor Tony Perry here: 

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This year-long pilot program is part of Middletown’s ongoing commitment to find ways to increase sustainability economically. Middletown has a habit of firsts:  “Last year, Middletown was the first municipality in the state to invest in a Styrofoam Recycling Machine, and we look to build upon our environmental successes with this program,” said Mayor Tony Perry.   

     READ MORE from TAPinto Middletown: A New Jersey First: Middletown First Town to Purchase  Styrofoam Recycling Machine . The results of this year-long pilot program/study will guide the Township to determine how the community's leaves can be transformed into a regenerative soil amendment for use throughout the town.  Perry continues, “This will enable us to potentially eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers and it is more cost-effective."

The idea for a partnership was borne when the NJ Composting Council (NJCC) introduced Middletown Sustainability Manager Amy Sarrinikolaou to a fellow member, Stacy Vogel of Homestead Slow Food in Pottersville, NJ, to discuss using the Township’s compost as a soil amendment for her farming soil rehabilitation needs.

“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,” said Vogel. “They can also screen the compost, making it usable as an excellent and natural source of nutrition for crops, flowers and lawns.”

Leaf composting has been shown to have a myriad of benefits from soil porosity, nutrient uptake, pathogen destruction and disease suppression for crops. It makes a dark, rich, earthy organic matter that can be used like soil and adds nutrients to existing soil. It can also help to loosen compacted earth. Composted leaves will also help retain moisture and repels weeds when used as a top dressing or mulch.

“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,” said Sarrinikolaou. “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.”

After initial quality testing, Vogel and Township officials were able to work out the parameters and goals of the program. Middletown will provide approximately 800 cubic yards of compost towards 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.

Just a short while away in August, the Township will be offering screened compost to residents at no cost that can be used as a natural way to repair and enhance their yards.

Visit www.middletownnj.org for updates.