Hundreds of Chickasaw citizens eat at Okchamali’s Café daily, which is located inside the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center. Fruits, vegetables and a full-service salad bar are served each day.
While most of the food is consumed by patrons, leftovers must be safely discarded. To reduce the burden on the local landfill and support the core values of stewardship that the Chickasaw Nation adheres to, Okchamali’s Café will be the test site for a new composting program.
“Okchamali’s Café is good reliable source for composting materials,” environmental specialist Ambrie Johnson said. “They don’t cook with lots of salt and fat. The vegetables, fruit and other nutritious items will be collected and used to make great fertilizer. We plan on using this soil to grow vegetables at the community gardens.”
If successful, Johnson hopes Okchamali’s Café will be the first of many compost pickup sites within the Chickasaw Nation.
“This is a plan that will be built upon. We want to get to where the Chickasaw Nation is adding little to the waste stream,” Johnson said. “Every day we throw away thousands of pounds of renewable trash into landfills, much of which can be recycled or used in other creative ways, like composting.”
Instead of using traditional composting methods, a special breed of earthworms will make compost faster and richer for soils from the food collected at the café.
“We are using a process of composting the material collected at the café called vermicomposting. Vermicomposting uses worms to speed up the process,” Johnson said. “It is more efficient and takes less time and energy to see the benefits than customary composting methods. We should start seeing usable materials within two to three months.”
According to Oklahoma State University Extension Office, the end product of vermicomposting is better for plants and soil than most commercial fertilizers. Vermicomposting reduces the cost of municipal solid waste collection and prolongs the life of landfills.