Finding the divine in dirt

For most people compost is just dirt, but for Garrett Gillespie, the owner of Boreal Compost Enterprises, it's a "manifestation of the divine.

For most people compost is just dirt, but for Garrett Gillespie, the owner of Boreal Compost Enterprises, it’s a “manifestation of the divine.

The process by which microbes break down complex, sometimes toxic, molecules into a nutrient-rich soil is a transformative process so vast and complicated Gillespie considers it beyond human understanding.

“This is the rebirth of things that were once living,” he said. “Every single molecule in your body can be transformed into something entirely different.

“It’s a reflection of the universe, is what it is.”

Given his almost mystical affinity for compost, it’s not surprising that the City of Whitehorse chose Gillespie’s company to take over the city’s compost facility.

The two-year pilot project, which began earlier this month, is the first public-private partnership Whitehorse has done, said Dave Muir, the manager of public works.

Under the terms of the agreement, the city will continue to pay for the general operations of the facility, to the tune of $195,000 a year.

For that, the city gets 20 per cent of the finished compost for use in its own projects free of charge and also gets 66 per cent of all of the sales of the compost.

The city is hoping to pull in about $40,000 this year from the deal, said Muir.

Whitehorse has diverted organics from the landfill for almost two decades, but it was in 2008, with the launch of the curbside green-bin program, that things really go going.

“Since then it’s just kept getting bigger and bigger, and it’s to the point now where we feel it’s ready to go to that next step and really become a major facility that can produce large volumes of high quality compost,” said Muir.

However, the city doesn’t have the in-house expertise needed, he said. That’s why they tapped Gillespie.

When he waxes poetic about the mystery of compost, Gillespie knows what he’s talking about. His resume is impressive.

In addition to running a farm in the territory for almost a decade, Gillespie has his master’s degree in agricultural engineering with a specialization in soils.

And it’s not even the first time that he’s worked with the municipal compost facility. In 2009, he designed and built a machine to separate plastic from the compost.

[image2]

“Every municipal compost facility has got a major challenge with plastic,” said Gillespie.

The Plastovac Plastic Separation System he invented is now being used at a large composting facility in Victoria, and he’s partnered with the U.S.-based equipment company, Vermeer Corporation, and the Cold Climate Innovation Centre at Yukon College, to develop a heavy-duty version of the machine.

“What I’ve developed is good already, and it’s far better than anything on the market right now, but what I’m aiming for is perfection,” said Gillespie.

In the next few weeks, he hopes to have a Plastovac up and running at the Whitehorse compost facility.

Right now Whitehorse diverts about 2,500 metric tonnes of organic waste per year. That’s only about 15 per cent of the city’s garbage, said Gillespie.

The territory and city aim to get the waste diversion rate up to 50 per cent in the next three years. It’s possible to do, but it will take a sizable investment in the municipal compost facility, said Gillespie.

“For another $5 million, that could get us to 20,000 tonnes, which would get us to 70 per cent waste diversion at the landfill,” he said. “The rest largely is recyclable.”

There are also some regulatory hurdles that makes the composting facility more expensive then it needs to be, he added. Under the territory’s solid-waste regulations, compost inputs are treated as toxic waste.

“It shouldn’t be,” said Gillespie. “That imposes some really heavy costs.”

Right now, expansion isn’t on the horizon. Gillespie is focused on getting the facility running smoothly.

“We need to get what’s there working right before we expand.”

There is a big demand for compost in the city. When it went up for sale at the Fireweed Market last week, bags of compost flew off the shelf.

“We had to do an emergency bagging,” said Gillespie. “We sold out everything in the first hour.”

The compost sells for $5 a bag, or $55 a cubic yard for bulk orders. They also offer topsoil and lawn and garden packages.

Orders can be picked up at the compost yard, but they will deliver anywhere in the territory, for a price.

“We really need this in our community, and we really need it to work well,” said Gillespie.

Just seeing the landfill first hand can be a traumatizing experience for the faint of heart, he said.

“Everything we do is there,” said Gillespie. “It’s like this archeological record of the insanity of our society.

“The great thing about compost is it’s one of Mother Nature’s ways of helping us out of that pickle.”

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before conducting a test with it on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
An inside look at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre

As the active COVID-19 case count grew last week, so too did… Continue reading

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Most Read