Coffee grounds have a second life in the Chemeketa startup farm

Three years ago, Salem Dutch Bros. barista Amanda Roberts wondered if her coffee stand could do something with used grounds besides throwing it away. Now she delivers hundreds of pounds a week to local farms for compost.

Amanda Roberts, a Dutch Bros. barista. and leader of the “Tulip Team,” drops off coffee grounds for composting at the Chemeketa Community College Agricultural Complex on Feb. 10, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Amanda Roberts smiles as she throws a large bag of coffee grounds onto a pile of steaming dirt.

“It was a huge bag, no trash!” she said.

That’s cause for celebration for the Salem barista, who has diverted thousands of pounds of waste soil from the landfill to local compost piles over the past three years.

Roberts works at the booth of Dutch Bros. on Southeast Commercial Street and coordinates the “Tulip Team”, a volunteer effort by Dutch Bros. workers. to deliver compostable coffee grounds to local gardens and small farms.

In January, the group added a new partner to the effort: Chemeketa Community College.

Tim Ray, the college’s dean for agricultural sciences, learned about the project through a former state agent for Future Farmers of America who now works for Dutch Bros.

“All of this would have ended up in the landfill,” he said as he and Roberts added to the pile on a recent Thursday morning.

Ray joined Chemeketa over the summer to lead an expansion of the college’s agricultural programs following the completion of the Agricultural Complex, a multimillion-dollar building and outdoor space on the east side of the college’s Salem campus.

The 5-acre plot includes a one-and-a-half-acre field that Ray plans to use as a hands-on lab for college horticulture students, growing fruits and vegetables starting this summer.

Tim Ray, dean of agricultural science at Chemeketa Community College, adds coffee grounds to a compost pile on Feb. 10, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

A challenge for Ray’s growing ambition is the soil on campus, which doesn’t yet have the structure or nutrients for ideal agriculture. He has planted a cover crop, but hopes the compost pile will soon be ready to provide more nutrients before the growing season begins.

“It’s cooking,” he says, walking towards a large pile where coffee grounds mix with food scraps and leaves. Ray had previously measured the battery’s internal temperature at 120 degrees, a sign that the organic matter inside was decomposing.

Roberts now delivers coffee grounds to Chemeketa weekly. On February 10, his transport was about 500 pounds of land in black plastic bags, collected from the nine local Dutch Bros. stands. who participate.

When Salemites are particularly caffeinated, the weekly haul sometimes reaches 900 pounds of coffee grounds, she said.

Roberts studied environmental studies in Southern California before heading north with his girlfriend, exploring Oregon from their van. They broke down in Salem, and she ended up staying, starting to work at the Market Street Dutch Bros. stand. three years ago.

She saw a video on social media of a Scottish company recycling coffee grounds by turning them into a palm oil-like substitute. This prompted her to wonder if her coffee stand could do something with their used grounds besides throwing them away.

Dutch Bros. supported the effort, she said, allowing her to use a company truck for deliveries and store the supplies in a south Salem warehouse.

Each participating stand has a designated member of the Tulip team who ensures baristas do not throw non-compostable waste with the pitch. Roberts picks up used land and makes deliveries twice a week, also stopping at Marion Polk Youth Farm and a local mushroom farm.

“It actually turned into something pretty amazing,” she said.

Ray said the first compost pile on campus is ready to cook and he plans to set up a second for the final deliveries.

He acknowledged that most college deans don’t spend part of their day on a tractor turning compost, but said it was true to its roots.

He grew up on a farm and was previously vocational technical education coordinator at Dallas High School, a position he held after teaching agriculture classes at local high schools for years.

“I would do farming today, but I can’t afford it,” he says. He opted for the next best option: to train future farmers.

“Two noblest things you can do on the planet – feed people or teach people how to feed people,” he said.

Amanda Roberts, a Dutch Bros. barista. and leader of the ‘Tulip Team,’ throws a bag of used coffee grounds onto a compost pile at the Chemeketa Community College Farm Complex on Feb. 10, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Contact journalist Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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