rake in dirt

Freshly composted soil. Photo by Alan Scherer Photographer.

The first time I made dirt, I was 10 years old. I was in the woods of Maine attending six weeks of sleep-away summer camp. Part of our daily schedule at camp was to perform certain tasks around camp that helped ensure things would run smoothly. Sometimes you’d end up with bathroom duty, and other times you’d wind up in charge of the compost pile. 

While composting was a communal effort, I think I was the only girl in my cabin who truly enjoyed lugging the food scraps from the dining hall to our giant camp compost pile. And since that first time I saw that we — my cabin mates and I — had managed to make dirt that we could use to grow flowers and food in, I’ve been hooked. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about 94 percent of the food people throw away ends up in landfills. In 2017 alone, Americans disposed of about 38.1 million tons of food waste — just think of all the dirt that waste could have made! 

Here are a few of my favorite resources when it comes to dirt-making. 

  1. Guide from Institute for Local Self-Reliance

    If you need a full primer on composting, this guide is a great starting place. Outlining everything from the benefits of community composting, to how to develop a financial plan and composting program models to check out, the guide goes deep in the root system of dirt-making knowledge and best practices. Even if you’re a seasoned pro when it comes to composting, you’ll most likely find some fresh ideas on how to get others to join you in your soil-making success. 

  2. Make Soil

    After you’ve gotten the basics down, the folks over at makesoil.org have compiled resources so that you can find a soil site near you. You can look up a site, find out what they accept when it comes to composting materials, and request access to begin collaborating with other soil-makers. There’s also a soil-making forum where you can ask questions of other users and get tips on how to up your dirt-making game. 

  3. GroCycle 

    If you’re not ready to compost all of your organic material yet, you could start with just one type of waste — for example coffee grounds. Across the pond, the UK’s GroCycle, diverts coffee grounds from landfills and transforms them into oyster mushrooms and compost. They also offer in-depth courses about growing mushrooms if you’re keen on learning all about fungi. What I love most about GroCycle is the coffee ground diversion details, as my household goes through about two full pots of coffee a day ourselves, which, as you can imagine, amounts to a lot of grounds.  

  4. LA Compost

    If you’re looking for a community case-study in composting, LA Compost is a great group to read up on. Based in Los Angeles, with 35 permanent compost hubs that function as community centers, this group has a detailed guide on how to start composting in your community. They outline everything from compost co-ops and compost drop-offs at farmer’s markets, to compost pick-up services and community composting hubs in the Los Angeles area. If you’re a visual learner, there’s also a great infographic on what you can and can’t compost. Another community case-study that’s worth noting is Revolution of the Buckets. The Brazil-based group started in 2008 in Florianopolis, Brazil, and is a community-based organic waste initiative that has thus far produced 1,200 tons of organic fertilizer. 

  5. Food Waste Reduction Tips

    Finally, if you’re not quite ready to take the composting plunge but do want to start reducing your organic waste, the Environmental Protection Agency has a straight-forward tipsheet on how to do just that. 

Check out some of our other composting related articles as well: 


Elizabeth Carr


Elizabeth Carr |

Elizabeth Carr is a marathoner, journalist, triathlete, coffee connoisseur, wife, mother, and writer turned non-profit fundraising expert. Her background in the nonprofit world comes from working with advocacy groups in