In the Summer of 2018, Davey Stewards worked as the mobile market manager for an area nonprofit. The work location for loading vegetables was Heritage Point Farm, the site of an unsuccessful farming project initiated by the Roanoke Natural Food Cooperative. The large barn was currently rented to aggregate and resell vegetables in the Roanoke community.
Seeing the tractor and the flat field, and having a desire to build soil to grow a garden, Davey began composting the food waste produced by the Roanoke natural food cooperative and LEAP to build a community garden at the site. After some time, the thought emerged about whether the site could be a viable space for a compost facility.
So, in the Spring of 2019, Davey entered a business competition for The Harvest Collective to support building a compost facility and community farming. His idea won $3,000 to support the project. That year, friends built a small garden at Heritage Point using the compost made in 2018, growing lots of sweet potatoes and squash.
But after a preliminary meeting with the Virginia DEQ, Davey knew he was in over his head. Trying to start a compost facility was something he couldn't do alone, financially or legally. A particular regulation vexed him: a compost facility needs a licensed waste management operator. However, a prerequisite licensing is no less than one year of experience working at a waste management facility. Virginia DEQ recommended that he reach out to Craig Coker — a nationally renowned compost facility consultant living just 6 miles away from Heritage Point.
Davey met Craig for coffee in downtown Roanoke, blocks away from Craig and his wife Dolores' bookstore, Book No Further. Davey shared his dilemma with Craig and asked for help starting a compost facility in exchange for ownership in a company. Craig agreed, mostly out of a desire to see his passion of composting happen locally. When Davey informed Craig that he'd be painting houses until the facility opened, Craig promptly hired Davey for some exterior painting projects, sealing the deal.
Over the next two years, Davey became engrossed in building a community permaculture farm on the property adjacent to Heritage Point. As the project sought to build democratic ownership and participation in land stewardship, it brought other collaborators, passionate about bringing a compost facility to Roanoke. The Harvest Collective began to form a core leadership team and expanded beyond just Davey. Hunter Hartley, Ronald Tommy Sieber, Katie Struble, and Erin Boetcher-Irby emerged as leaders in the unfolding process.
At the same time, Davey spearheaded the process of getting a special exception permit process with Roanoke City to operate a compost facility at a farm with Industrial zoning. With COVID happening, the processes with the city slowed, but Davey pushed on. Using some of the competition winnings, he started buying tractor-trailer loads of compost from another producer and selling/delivering compost to friends and acquaintances. Craig Coker provided a compost operator training course for The Harvest Collective to help us understand the technologies and techniques we needed to master for a successful facility.
In the Summer of 2022, by stepping back from competing commitments, and with the support of his family, friends, and The Harvest Collective, Davey was able to focus on bringing many of the details of the compost facility together. The Harvest Collective negotiated a lease for the property, produced a viable business plan, raised capital, and created an infrastructure build plan for the compost facility.
In 2022 and 2023, The Harvest Collective worked with the University of Virginia Law Clinic to support the legal organization of the vision of The Harvest Collective as a democratically run workers cooperative. The UVA law clinic was instrumental in formalizing a structure for Star City Compost that fit within the greater vision that The Harvest Collective is building. The result for Star City Compost was an equitable mechanism for future employees to become worker-owners, formalizing our dream of democratic ownership and participation in land stewardship.
In the Spring of 2023, the group assembled all of the necessary documents and organized all the other steps necessary to obtain permitting with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. For the rest of 2023, we built the critical infrastructure for the compost facility. This process involved countless hours of manual labor, critical planning, and problem-solving and was only possible with the help of many community members, friends, and our families. But it all paid off. In the last days of the year, all paperwork was finalized, the site buildout was complete, we were inspected, and then we were permitted.
In January of 2024, we opened our doors. We are proud to serve the Roanoke area community with much-needed ecological infrastructure.