EUGENE - Lane County's Master Gardeners are trying to get the word out that composting isn't just for homeowners with big yards. And people, including students, are listening.

The City of Eugene's Solid Waste and Recycling Program, in cooperation with the Oregon State University Extension Service's Master Gardener program, has sold more than 8,000 compost bins during the last three years and provided information and workshops to several thousand adults and youth.

"We've completed our second year of classroom outreach and the response has been excellent," said Iris Sayre, composting coordinator for the Lane County's Master Gardeners. "In the 1996-97
school year, we made 87 classroom presentations to more than 2,000 youth in Lane County. Most were in Eugene, but we hope to expand to other parts of the county.

"Nationally, master composter volunteer outreach programs are becoming more common, but we are the first Oregon program to take our presentations to schools," Sayre said.

"Presentations at schools usually focus on composting as part of environmental and biological studies," added Sayre. "Composting is presented as a method of decreasing the waste going into environmentally polluting landfills, and as a process that encourages naturally occurring beneficial soil organisms to decompose organic waste and turn it into a rich soil amendment."

On Oct. 21, 16 Lane County Master Gardeners will become the county's first certified master composters, according to Pat Patterson, Master Gardener coordinator for OSU's Lane County Extension office. Each of them will have completed 25 or more hours of community service related to composting since completing compost training classes in March.

Sayre notes that you don't have to live in a home or on a farm to benefit from composting.

"Worm bins are perfect for small-scale composting," she said. "They work well for apartment and condominium dwellers or anyone who wants to compost food waste and doesn't have access to an outside compost bin. The resulting 'worm castings' can be used to add soil nutrients to houseplants."

There are options, too, for people who like the concept of composting, but don't want to do the job themselves. Two large-scale commercial composting operations in Eugene -Rexius and Lane Forest Products - both take yard (but not food) wastes and compost it for resale.

One of Lane County's most interesting composting operations is The Grassroots Garden, behind St. Thomas Episcopal Church at 1465 Coburg Road, according to OSU's Patterson.

The project takes tons of fruit and vegetable scraps from a local grocery store and uses the compost on a two-acre, organic garden run by Food for Lane County. Crops are distributed to the needy.

"The Grassroots Garden also serves as a compost education demonstration site where people can see large-scale and small bin-type composting in operation," Sayre said.

For more information on composting, call the Master Gardener hotline at 541-682-4247 or the Eugene Recycling Hotline at 541-682-2744.

Lane County has about 200 volunteer Master Gardeners. They earned their certificate through an OSU-sponsored training program that is open to the public.

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Iris Sayre, 541-344-5145