College Partners with City on Organics Diversion Effort

April 21, 2022
Selkirk College faculty and students provided a tour of the Tenth Street Campus commercial kitchen for City of Nelson staff and council members.

The next generation of hospitality industry leaders are delving deeper into climate solutions through a pilot project partnership between Selkirk College and the City of Nelson.

Over the past semester of learning, students in the Professional Cook Training Program have been utilizing a new commercial foodcycler appliance in the bustling kitchen on Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus. Provided by the municipal government as part of its Nelson Next Climate Plan that outlines organics diversion as a key priority tactic to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the pilot project has already dramatically cut down on the commercial kitchen waste going into the trash.

“It’s important that students learn about the whole chain, they need to think about how the food is produced until the end product,” says David Havemann, the faculty member who has taken the lead on the pilot project. “This makes students conscious about where those vegetable scraps are ending up, that they are not just going to the garbage and disappearing.”

Fitting well into the commercial kitchen setting at the college, the industrial foodcycler provides a pre-treatment process for organic waste that mashes and dehydrates food scraps. From potato peels and beef bones to the remains left on customer’s plates, the unit substantially reduces the weight and volume of food. The result is a soil amendment that can be collected by the city or used in backyard gardens.

Home to the college’s School of Hospitality & Tourism programs, the Tenth Street Campus is an experiential learning facility that hosts a range of events from Scholar’s Dining Room to community banquets. Students in the Professional Cook Training Program are also responsible for the daily cafeteria services on the campus. A generator of inevitable organic waste, in its first couple of months the foodcycler pilot has made a significant difference in kitchen operations.

“The pilot at Selkirk College will help us determine if this is a viable solution in the broader commercial sector,” says Emily Mask, the City of Nelson’s Organics Diversion Coordinator. “By reducing the volume with this type of unit, we reduce transportation emissions associated with hauling organic waste which allows us to maximize emission reductions. We will continue with the pilot, but early indications are very positive. We are pleased to be working with Selkirk College faculty and students on helping us achieve our shared climate goals.”

Equipping Future Leaders with Practical Solutions

A hospitality industry veteran, Havemann spent 23 years working as a chef for CMH Heli Skiing high in the East Kootenay mountains during the winters and picking up work in Nelson during the summers. Formally trained in Montreal, Havemann has always been mindful of the amount of organic waste that unnecessarily goes into the garbage. In charge of the composting program at his townhouse strata along the shore of Kootenay Lake, Havemann is passionate about finding solutions. 

“I love that we keep almost all of this food waste in our strata out of the garbage stream,” says Havemann. “There is something pretty amazing about seeing these gross, slimy banana peels going in and this beautiful black gold coming out of it at the end.”

When the foodcycler arrived to the Tenth Street Campus in February 2022, Havemann knew very little about the industrial appliance. Naming the unit “Kirby” at the start of the semester, faculty and students have developed a system and are getting immediate results. Gone are the days of students lugging heavy double-bagged organics to the commercial garbage bins at least once a day. In the final weeks of the semester, the minimal trash being taken to the outdoor bins is done by evening custodians and includes no organic materials.

“It’s such a huge part of our culture overall, people just throw organic waste into a garbage can and don’t think about it,” says Havemann. “Now these students are seeing the end-product coming out, it’s amazing to see the chain go in a different direction. We see the end product, it’s going to go back into the ground and hopefully someone will grow some more vegetables with it.”

The soil amendment being produced by the foodcycler is largely odorless and does not attract pests/wildlife. More study on the practical uses for the soil amendment will be conducted by student researchers at Selkirk Innovates in a separate partnership taking place over the coming months.

Just the Beginning

A semester of learning for both faculty and staff has already made an impact. Though the commercial kitchen at the Tenth Street Campus is quiet during the summer break, Havemann is already looking forward to further developing the educational and practical aspects of the foodcycler when full operations resume in September 2022.

One of the simple measures of success for Havemann is removing garbage cans from the kitchen setting. Down to only three cans in a bustling operation, he is confident that soon there will be just one.

“You need to make it inconvenient for people to just throw something away, you have to change their mindset,” says Havemann. “Taking garbage cans away makes you think about it more and makes you divert it from the waste stream. We have planted the seed while they are up here. Students who graduate from our program will go out into the industry with new knowledge and questions for their employers about why they are not doing this and how they can help contribute to solutions.”

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