It looked like a step back in time last weekend when Montpelier shutterbug Fran Dodd caught this image and video of a cart being pulled by a team of donkeys.
And this wasn’t just for recreation. It was equine trainer Josh Jones getting Mary, Hurrite and Ruby ready for their career in waste diversion — collecting food scraps from people — many of whom will be newly forced to do so to comply with a new environmental law.
“The July 1st food waste ban is coming at us rather quickly,” said Vermont Compost General Manager Kurt Erickson by phone June 22. “We have started a residential tote host program.”
Vermont bans disposal of food scraps from trash or landfills starting July 1, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s website. This is an effort to save landfill space and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Agency of Natural Resources will make efforts to assure compliance by following up on complaints. “ANR has enforcement authority under 10 V.S.A. Section 8003(a) for solid waste laws and all of Vermont’s 11 landfill disposal bans, which includes the food waste ban. ANR has consistently prioritized education and outreach on the food waste ban and has worked to ensure options exist for food scrap collection and drop-off.” However, they will not sort through residential trash bags looking for food scraps or recyclables, the website states.
This is where Mary, Ruby and Hurrite come in. These are the names of the three equines chosen to take the lead in the food scrap hauling route in Montpelier. Head Teamster Josh Jones, who has been taking the animals out into town in recent days, moved here from Michigan to take over the training end of things.
“We are in the very early stages. We are training the equines to go into town,” Erickson said. Two years ago the company experimented with using the donkey carts to deliver eggs from The Vermont Compost Company farm to the Hunger Mountain Coop. This time around, they might just combine services: Deliver eggs and pick up food waste in one trip. But that part of it has yet to be ironed out.
They started what he calls a “residential tote host program” in late March and early April of this year. It involved a box truck driving around neighborhoods to a “host” site — a place where a person with a 32 gallon container would serve as the drop off point for around every 15 to 20 neighboring houses — rather than going around to pick up little individual buckets. The Vermont Compost Company picks up the host buckets, washes, and returns them.
Why use donkeys and mules?
“The donkeys have had a close and intimate relationship with us from the start,” Erickson said “We’ve been trying to maintain work with equines — where and how to use them. We do use them for growing.” Meaning, Vermont Compost Company uses the animals to till the soil and help plant the garden.
The company has a team of eight equines, and most were bred on site. They are a rare breed called the Great American Jack. Erickson said company founder Ken Hammer has always used equines in his work and the company has an interest in keeping the skill set alive for people to continue “in managing equines and make sure the bloodlines continue.”
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