BRIDGEPORT — Farmer Jon Scheffel rode his bike up to the entrance of a well-kept South Loop condo complex towing a trailer containing a big orange bucket.
"This is the prototype," said Scheffel, 27, a Bridgeport resident who launched his mobile compost collection service less than a month ago.
Scheffel's compost collection business is similar to other in Chicago but with two notable exceptions — it's conducted entirely by bike and is believed to be the South Side's only such service.
Jon Scheffel explains his business:
Here's how it works: For a modest subscription fee, Scheffel will deliver a bucket that comes with a set of guidelines on which food scraps are acceptable — no fish, meat or dairy, among other restrictions.
After about a month, he'll pick up the full bucket and deliver it to Nature's Little Recyclers, a worm compost farm in Back of the Yards, and swap it for a clean bucket that's ready to accept fresh and cooked produce, bread, grains, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells and shredded paper.
The end result? Waste is diverted from landfills and turned into potent growing soil, thanks to thousand of worms who feed on bacteria from food scraps in a process known as vermicomposting. That nutrient-rich compost is sold by the pound or cubic yard to local gardeners and urban farms.
Scheffel recently took over as director of Pleasant Farms, a growing operation at the The Plant, a sustainable food production facility in Back of the Yards. He uses the worm-fed compost to grow virtually everything that's prepared at Pleasant House Bakery, the popular Bridgeport restaurant.
"We grow lettuce, greens, beets, carrots, onion, kale, herbs, flowers. Pretty much everything that we use at the restaurant," he said. "That's the energy loop closing ... your food is going to make more soil for us to grow more food."
Scheffel, an Atlanta native drawn to Chicago's urban agriculture scene — he helped launch the Greens and Gills aquaponic farm at The Plant — said he senses a growing need for the service as people become more conscious of the relationship between food and waste.
It's a safe bet, as Chicago's urban farmers and environmental policy have been calling for more expansive, less restricting municipal composting programs.
Right now, city waste haulers will take grass clippings and leaves — but not food scraps — and the city's current ordinance limits the size and scope of backyard composting.
Jen Walling, director of the Illinois Environmental Council, said a new ordinance is under review by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office and could be approved by the end of the year.
There are also laws governing food waste hauling, but Scheffel said he's not breaking any of them.
"As far as I know I'm not doing anything illegal and I hope it's not because it's natural. What I'm really doing is collecting food for an animal, and those animals are worms" he said.
For now he's found a niche with the dropoff and pickup service.
Already, he has a handful of clients in Bridgeport, Hyde Park and Brighton Park. Last week, he dropped off an empty bucket to Alia Dalal, 28, a personal chef who lives in the South Loop complex.
"I definitely generate more food waste than other people," she said.
Dalal, a natural foods chef and former finalist to host WTTW's "Check, Please!", is especially attuned to food sustainability.
"It becomes insane that we throw food waste into the garbage. It just makes no sense," she said.
She'll keep the bucket near the kitchen of her condo, with plans to bring it to the underground dinner parties she hosts across the city.
"Other people might be like 'Oh my, here's a bucket of rotting food,' but it really doesn't bother me as much."
To learn more about the compost collection service, call Jon Scheffel at 312-927-4778 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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