Composting in the Northwest Territories

Recently I had the privilege of teaching compost facility operator training courses in Yellowknife, Hay River and Fort Simpson. Significant observations included the interest in composting in these northern communities comes from a desire to improve local soils with quality products, not just to reduce the waste to landfill, and that composting a in cold climate is not a barrier, just something that needs to be accounted for.

I have to honor the excellent vision and work of Shannon Ripley, Waste Reduction Specialist, Northwest Territories; and Kim Rapiti of Ecology North,  for their passion and enthusiasm to make composting happen in the north! When I was there, it so great to see the efforts of Jackie Milne and the Territorial Farmer’s Association on their amazing strategy for promoting food security in the north through gardening programs in many communities (

Because of the interest in recycling organic matter and nutrients for local food production, I also included a training on “The Life in Our Soil – An Introduction to Soil Microbiology” This presentation was prepared by Richard Stehouwer of Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, adapted and used with permission. Introduction to Soil Microbiology JP Feb 14. This presentation also gave a great introduction to the microbiology of the composting process!

In Yellowknife, because of the cross section of the community that attended, we also worked a process of questions that included: What are some of the community values that influence whether or not we would support or encourage a community wide composting program?, What are some of the barriers? Given that we need to begin with the end in mind, what criteria or characteristics do we wish to see in Yellowknife’s compost?, and What should we consider during collection or composting that may influence the desired end goal?

Yellowknife composting course participants

Yellowknife composting course participants (photo courtesy of the City of Yellowknife)

In Hay River, the community is smaller than Yellowknife, but also passionate about composting. There is also a large poultry farm that can contribute low C/N ratio manure to blend with some of the large quantities of cardboard that are currently going to landfill!

Some of the course participants in Hay River inspecting the rotary composter at the local school.

Some of the course participants in Hay River inspecting the rotary composter at the local school.

Fort Simpson is a smaller community than either Yellowknife or Hay River, yet the passion for composting exists. Participants were especially excited about using old freezers as composter, designed by Bert Baillie of Powell River  ( There are several reasons for this. In smaller communities, the volume of organic waste is not large, the freezers provide some protection from wildlife, and freezers provide insulation in the cold!

Participants at the Fort Simpson composting course.

Participants at the Fort Simpson composting course.

In Fort Simpson, we also brainstormed the community values that would influence composting food scraps, the barriers to composting, and the assets in the community.

There is a lot of creativity in the north. I look forward to seeing some of the strategies for composting that will be implemented!

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