Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

September 2, 2012

Boy turns compost into green business venture

TRAVERSE CITY — Some kids earn money with paper routes. Others do yard chores or baby-sit.

Carter Schmidt earns the green stuff a greener way: by operating his own compost business.

Carter, 8, is owner of Carter's Compost, a year-round kitchen scrap pickup service in Traverse City. Its mission: To give residents an easy way to compost and to help green the city, one bucket at a time.

The service works like this: For $5 a month, customers get a 5-gallon bucket — donated by Grand Traverse Pie Company — in which to dispose of coffee grounds, egg shells, tea bags, rotten mac 'n' cheese, moldy bread, veggie matter and other food waste. Once a week they leave the filled bucket on their doorstep or back stoop. Carter picks it up and takes it home to compost, leaving a clean, empty bucket in its place. Every four months or so customers get back a bucket of rich compost for their garden.

"I love my composting business because I like going around town and reducing waste from the landfill," said Carter, whose business vehicle is a mountain bike pulling a trailer.

The Eastern Elementary third-grader has always helped his dad in the yard and garden, where the family grow fruits and vegetables, raises chickens, and composts for their own use. Currently they have seven medium-sized compost piles and eight worm bins. So when his dad, Ty Schmidt, spotted a website about a small-scale compost business it seemed like the perfect kid-powered job.

"This whole small-scale composting is the trend right now," said Ty Schmidt, who hoped "pretty progressive" and "green" Traverse City would get behind the idea. "It's part of the local-food, grow-your-own culture that's coming back to urban backyards and gardens."

The pair started out in April with two or three Washington Street customers recruited during door-to-door sales calls. Now they have nearly 30 regulars in neighborhoods like Oak Park, Boardman, Midtown and Traverse Heights.

"It's kind of taken off a little. I'm surprised. Business is almost too good," said Ty Schmidt, who hopes to partner with a community garden like the Grand Traverse Area Children's Garden or the Botanic Garden of Northwest Michigan. "We have several customers who have never, ever composted. Growing up they always put their food in the trash. This is a super easy way to recycle."

Carter advertises his business through a website, www.carterscompost.wordpress.com, and the social media site Facebook.

"Now every single teacher and kid in school knows about me and I have 10 schoolmates' families as customers," he said.

Collection day is Monday but that will change to Sunday once school starts, Carter said. He and his father spend about two or three hours on their route, taking occasional breaks at Oryana natural foods market. Little brother Jameson, 5, makes drawings to decorate the buckets and origami collection envelopes.

"I thought it was just going to be easy, peasy but it's not," said Carter, who saves $4 out of every $5 he earns. "Probably the hardest thing is towing the buckets. Most of our customers give me full buckets and I'm (groaning under the weight). One of our customers puts their compost in a bag so the juice oozes out and when you open it up there are all these bugs. You just put the lid on and don't breathe through your nose."

Still, he said the rewards far outweigh the challenges. Already he's saved enough money to buy a new cyclocross bike, a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. Next on his shopping list: a new trailer to pull behind it.

"I think the most fun is once the compost is ready we pick out the worms and roly-polys (small bugs) and put them back into another compost bin and sift the compost to give back," he said.

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