Recently I interviewed Tom Crawford from the Dirty Hands Composting Cooperative about exactly why he spends so much of his time harvesting food scraps from the urban landscape. Based at the Hobart City Farm, this enterprise is helping to turn a problem into a nutrient-dense solution!

What is Dirty Hands?

“Dirty Hands is a cooperative based business that collects food scraps from cafes and restaurants around nipaluna/Hobart and processes it into compost. We operate in collaboration with a few community gardens and provide compost in return for their use of space.”

Who’s involved and what are their roles?

“Currently we have three people involved in the business. Tom is the founder who started through a Hobart City Council grant in 2016. Gabriela has been involved for the past year and helped Tom evolve the business into a financially sustainable operation. We also have Marissa who has been helping with collections and processing for the past three months. All three are involved in the weekly collection and processing of food scraps into compost.”

Tom Crawford and Gabriela O’Leary – photo by the ABC.

When did you start?

“In May 2016 the idea of a community composting hub was first submitted to Hobart City Council when applying for a grant with the support of Hobart City Farm and Source Community Wholefoods. As of August 2016 the grant was successful. The first collection began in November 2016, and continued ever since. And after over two years of running a free service to businesses, the operations have managed to transition to a fully paid service for the past six months.”

Just wanted to pipe in here and say that this is such an achievement! Making these types of projects financially viable and sustainable is always a bit tricky – so Tom and co are doing an amazing job in this regard. 

What are you looking to achieve?

“The main aims of the business are to reduce waste to landfill; utilise the resources of organic materials and returning it to the soil; and creating employment with a social and environmental focus. Building community awareness around waste reduction through composting is also a big focus.”

Is it hard work to set up and manage?

“The work is at times challenging but rewarding due to the aims being achieved. The collection can be frustrating due to logistics of organising buckets and “tetrising” the buckets into the vehicle, and getting stuck in traffic is less than ideal. The composting is a physical job but satisfying when you get to see the amazing final product: rich dark compost. Cleaning buckets can also be a job that lacks inspiration, but it is part of the bigger picture, and we’re sure that the customers appreciate it.

One of the hardest things for us to do was switching from a free service to paid as paying extra to do the right thing doesn’t always work out. It can be really challenging for businesses as composting is an added pressure for the hospitality sector. But we have a fantastic group of businesses that we work with, and we are always keen for more to join.”

Some of the many food scrap buckets!

What’s your favourite thing about running Dirty Hands?

“We love that the business is set up on cooperative principles, meaning that we all have an equal say in what goes on, as well as equal pay. We also really appreciate working with Hobart City Farm and gaining all of their insights. And WORMS!!! Worms are the most incredible animals, turning food-scraps into gold! The worms have made our operations so much easier due to less physical turning of the compost.

An example of just one of the large worm farms that are built from rodent-proof corrugated iron

What’s your hope for the future?

“We hope to continue building our operation, evolving with the changes and hopefully reach the point where we can transition to an actual cooperative business that can provide a quality composting service to a larger community of people and businesses, whilst staying true to our aims and getting our hands dirty!”

See more about this project here…

Learn how to compost at home…

*All images are provided by Dirty Hands, ABC or The Mercury Newspaper.