Calin Farley and Matt Stanley sifted through a generous buffet from Owens Food Court: burritos from La Cantina, spaghetti from Lotsa Pasta and mixed greens from the salad bar.
But the two men handled the items wearing blue latex gloves, for it was hardly a meal they’d consume.
The medley of foods — most several days old and pungent — were mashed together in 48-gallon green collection carts, each instructing in large white letters “Compostables Only.” Farley and Stanley, employees of Poplar Manor Enterprises Compost, tilted the carts with the help of mechanical levers into a 25-yard-long, rear-packing truck.
“We got plenty of carts here,” Farley said. “We’ve got 41. It usually takes us, I don’t know, 30 minutes to an hour to dump them all.”
PME Compost toted the Virginia Tech student, faculty and staff leftovers to a farm in Floyd County where the will ultimately be recycled into compost.
Compost is a black soil that results from the decomposition of organic materials. Farley’s wife, Mindy, complements Calin and Stanley as the third, and final, PME Compost employee. She easily described what falls under the compostable umbrella.
“I like to say, ‘If it grows, it goes,’” she said. “So if it was once a living organism — a plant or an animal — it definitely goes.”
After graduating from Tech in 2005, Calin didn’t use his history degree to find employment.
“If you didn’t want to move away from this area, it was tough to find a good, paying job,” he said. “But I knew we had a farm — we had 140 acres — I knew we could do something with it.”
Calin said he and his father brainstormed how to best use the family farm, which had previously only hosted beef cattle.
“We were looking for a new business that would be a niche market for the future,” Calin said, “and we were also looking for something that would help our community.”
Juggling about five ideas, Calin said he pinpointed an activity that had little commercial presence in the state.
“Everybody was doing plastic recycling,” he said. “No one was doing organic recycling.”
Calin said he explored composting businesses for nearly a year. Most of his research was online, though he also heeded insight from Tech professors in the crop and field discipline.