Birmingham start-up creates new business from composting
The ancient art of composting, which was greatly refined in the 20th century, allows us to avoid tossing potentially valuable organic material — examples include food scraps, leaves and grass clippings — into landfills or incinerators.
“Rather than see those resources be wasted, we take that material and create a natural, biologically rich soil amendment that can be used on farms and in gardens to grow healthy food,” said Matt Nesbitt, co-founder of a Birmingham start-up called Field Culture Compost.
Nesbitt and co-owner Alex Thompson founded Field Culture Compost in February 2020, and the company is now signing up individuals, businesses and government organizations that wish to take advantage of its residential and commercial compost services.
Field Culture Compost converts fruit and vegetable scraps, meat, bones, fish products, cooked foods, eggshells, unbleached paper towels and household plants into “well-made, living compost for farms, home and neighborhood gardens, as well as landscapers,” said Nesbitt, who also serves as the company’s primary spokesperson.
“Our residential compost pickup subscription has been doing very well,” Nesbitt said.
The company’s service areas currently include Homewood and parts of Birmingham and Hoover. “Mountain Brook is one of our newest service areas and should officially open in April,” Nesbitt said.
The start-up is also building its own 6-acre composting facility in Bessemer.
Field Culture Compost is part of a growing trend in America, Nesbitt said.
“In the past few years, the number of pick-up services nationwide has skyrocketed nationwide,” he said. “Few people have the time or space to compost, and backyard bins don’t break compostable items down quickly enough or may attract small pests.”
In addition to growing in popularity with consumers, composting is now required in some parts of the country, Nesbitt said.
“As yard waste and food waste bans continue to become the standard, communities are looking for better ways to deal with waste,” he said.
There are approximately 3,500 municipal composting facilities nationwide, with over 200 communities instituting residential food-scrap collection programs, he said.
His statements are supported by a composting report released in 2019 by the nonprofit U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group).
According to the report, the number of communities offering composting programs had grown by 65 percent in five years.
Landfills themselves are also “a growing point of contention in Alabama due to their negative impact on the economic, physical and overall well-being of surrounding communities,” Nesbitt said.
The company’s new facility in Bessemer, which should be open in mid-2021, will give Field Culture Compost the opportunity to service large-scale producers of organic materials.
Those producers “will now have the facilities needed to ‘do better’ by diverting their materials away from landfills,” Nesbitt said.
Nesbitt attended Lambuth University in Jackson, Tennessee, worked on organic farms in Alabama, Georgia and the U.K. and, in 2019, completed a training course offered by the U.S. Composting Council.
Thompson earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at The University of Alabama, worked with the non-profit Cocoa Farming Future Initiative in the West Indies and earned a master’s degree in Public Health at UAB.
Field Culture Compost was the winner of the $50,000 concept stage award at the annual Virtual Launchpad competition in June 2020 sponsored by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.
The company is poised to become Alabama’s first commercial compost producer, according to the Alabama Launchpad website.
“These are two startups with high-growth potential who also offer innovative solutions in their respective sectors,” said EDPA Innovation Consultant Dennis Leonard, referring to Field Culture Compost and Moxie, a Birmingham tech firm that won $100,000 in the competition.
The financial boost was not the only benefit Field Culture Compost gained from the Virtual Launchpad competition, Nesbitt said.
“It forced us to ask ourselves some hard questions, do some hard work and solicit some much needed guidance from our advisors,” he said.
At press time, Field Culture Compost was also taking part in the 12-week Velocity Cohort 2021 at the Innovation Depot business incubator downtown.
“For us it has given an excellent opportunity to really work on our business,” Nesbitt said. “Through guidance and mentorship, from the people and resources provided to us from Innovation Depot, we are really getting down to the nuts and bolts and making sure that Field Culture Compost is and will continue to be successful.”
It has also been invaluable for the Field Culture Compost founders to network with other founders of startups.
“Just being able to talk through ideas with someone who was once in your shoes has been incredible,” Nesbitt said. “The conversations around raising capital and customer acquisition have been the most helpful so far.”
Field Culture Compost will be at Birdsong Farmers Market at 824 Fifth Ave. South in Lakeview each Saturday in April. The company will have compost for sale and will offer its bucket exchange program.
“For a small fee, we provide you with a bin, and every week you can bring us your collected food scraps and get a clean bucket,” Nesbitt said.
To sign up for residential or commercial composting pickup, go to fieldculturecompost.com.
The company is also found on Facebook @FieldCultureCompost and Instagram @field_culture_compost.
What can be composted?
► Fruit and vegetable scraps
► Coffee grounds
► Tea bags (if made with natural materials; no staples)
► Loose leaf tea
► Soy, rice, almond or coconut milk
► Cooked rice or pasta
► Leaves trimmed from houseplants
► Pits from fruit
► Yard waste (dead leaves, small branches, etc.)
► Sawdust or wood chips from untreated wood
► Uncoated paper products (ripped up)
► Dry cereal and breads
► Nut shells
► 100% cotton balls
► Uncoated cardboard (ripped up)
► Wine corks
► Fish, meat and whole eggs
► Dairy products