Q&A With Earth Stew Compost Services

A grassroots composting business in Madison, Wis., transforms food scraps into vermicompost that can be added back to the garden.

by Rachel Werner

Lessening the average carbon footprint by picking up food waste and repurposing it into much-needed organic matter is more than just a hobby for Joanne Tooley, owner of Earth Stew Compost Services in Madison, Wis.—it’s a lucrative way of life. Launching her mobile composting service in 2013, Tooley is a pioneer in promoting eco-conscious living to urban dwellers in the Midwest by providing a tangible resource for city residents to make environmentally responsible choices. We sat down with Tooley for more insight on the woman behind the worms.

What benefits does your mobile composting service offer?

Joanne Tooley: Among the environmental issues that people are increasingly concerned about are global warming, the massive use of chemicals in our food system and the lack of sustainability in our use of resources. When people throw their organic waste into landfills, more methane from landfills is vented into the atmosphere, resources are wasted and our food system becomes more dependent upon chemical additives. Composting our food waste helps on all these fronts. The compost created by recycled foods returns nutrients to our soil, reducing our need for chemicals and, most importantly, prevents the organic waste from creating methane when entombed in landfills.

My business composts subscribers’ food waste. They in turn receive locally made vermicompost (worm compost) each spring, derived from their composted food waste that is fed to worms. Vermicompost is a high-quality soil amendment that enriches the soil naturally and strongly retains water, reducing the need for watering gardens and lawns.

What impact does Earth Stew have on the community?

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JT: Earth Stew helps the Madison community in several ways:

  1. It gives residents an opportunity to compost that they didn’t have before.
  2. As more people participate, they will share with others what they’re doing and others will want to participate, which will promote cultural change on a local level.
  3. As more food waste is composted and returned to the customer and a portion of the finished vermicompost is sold at local farmers markets, it provides residents a local high-quality product that replaces their dependence on chemical fertilizers, as well as on compost shipped from great distances.
  4. There are economic benefits associated with reduced tipping fees and reduced environmental risk related to landfill sites and management. Reducing the use of landfills protects underground water resources, and our land is better used rather than set aside for landfill expansion.
  5. Grassroots food-waste-collection services are in a unique position to provide composting to households and businesses that want to live in an environmentally friendly manner—particularly, in a way that larger refuse companies and municipalities are not structured to handle.

How is your business personally rewarding to you?

Earth Stew Compost Services transforms food waste into vermicompost.

JT: Starting this business has allowed me to be engaged with others that share my quest for a sustainable food system. My current clients have thanked me and are very supportive.

Like many of the small grassroots composting business across the U.S., I like the idea that I am educating the public that their food waste is really a resource to be recycled back into the soil. The positive feedback I receive from my subscribers and others that are interested in what I do constantly motivates me to move forward.

About the Author: Rachel Werner is the assistant editor of BRAVA, a magazine created by women for women. She is a fitness instructor, personal trainer and blogger, and her passionate commitment to holistic wellness and sustainable agriculture makes Madison, Wis., a wonderful home.


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