Leading the way in sustainable waste management for the Flathead Valley, Dirt Rich Compost in Columbia Falls is turning our trash into treasure — one banana peel at a time.

By Aaron Rabin. Photograph by Mandy Mohler of Field Guide Designs.

Alissa LaChance, self-proclaimed “Soil-Nerd” and sustainability enthusiast, is on a mission to make composting for the Flathead Valley a win-win. At Dirt Rich Compost, she sees their service as a double-whammy for customers – an affordable and environmentally productive outlet for waste disposal. “Dirt Rich puts a high emphasis on keeping things local and not diverting to a landfill, for waste sustainability,” says Alissa, owner and operator of Dirt Rich Compost, LLC.

What happens when your garbage can gets dumped at the landfill? What becomes of all those miscellaneous clumps of detritus hugging the inner lining of your garbage bags? Well, nothing much. Since landfills are oxygen-free environments, food waste tends to become mummified instead of breaking down.

And here’s a fact: food scraps account for 35% of your waste stream. That’s a sizeable percentage. Given that your trash (more than likely, at least partly comprised of these food scraps), isn’t going anywhere substantial, it’s more than a bit relieving that Alissa and her fellow workers are tirelessly cultivating a new option to use your garbage in both healthy and efficient ways – in the form of compost.

Dirt Rich, as Alissa puts it, is “…a two-aspect company. It’s a lot about diverting and collecting materials that are actually resources, instead of making them waste. And instead of making them waste, we make them resources while also providing a local and sustainable outlet.” After collecting food scraps and yard waste, Dirt Rich uses a thermal composting process to make sure the materials break down completely. The finished compost product is sold to local farms and gardens as a high-quality soil amendment.

As amazing as this sounds, this wonderful idea wasn’t always in place for the Flathead. Dirt Rich has been doing our valley good for the past three years, which is as long as Alissa has been back from travelling and studying in Missoula. According to her, being away was just not enough for her to settle without coming back to the community she holds dear. “I couldn’t find any other ski towns or outdoor-oriented options like this one,” she remarked. “I didn’t realize how important the community [of Columbia Falls] was to me until I had left for a while.” This realization led her to head back to the valley and, with a friend’s help, start up Dirt Rich.

Yet, despite the fluidity of how this wonderful way of sustainability came about, this was not her initial idea. Alissa had wanted to go into farming for a while, more specifically working with food and food alone.

But after having pursued the option for some time she came to another realization that farming just wasn’t cutting it for her. “It wasn’t really the whole picture for me.” Thus began the search for something more. When her business partner suggested both the name and the idea behind Dirt Rich, Alissa was psyched. She started really getting into compost after that. “I learned on the job,” she remarks, remembering what it was like when she first launched into the business. “I really started getting into the biology of compost, and also really started getting technical about how to provide a sustainable outlet for compost too.” She even has a microscope to help her get even more scientific in examining the biology behind the composting cycle.

Now, three years and quite a few happy customers later, Alissa makes it a point to ever emphasize just how important the green and cyclical process of local composting is. “Learning to manage waste streams and take responsibility for what we use and buy is major,” she said.

Despite the name, Dirt Rich is just about the cleanest way for us here in this valley to reduce our waste and turn it into something useful.

Dirt Rich offers residential and commercial curbside pickup for food waste throughout the Flathead, and also sells finished compost product straight from their piles or by delivery. Learn more at www.dirtrichcompost.com, or by calling 406-212-7535. Look for their new burlap bags of compost at farmer’s markets this summer!

About the Author: Originally from New York, Aaron Rabin is an aspiring writer who’s currently enrolled in a boarding school here in Kalispell. He plans to attend college at American University in the fall.

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