Welcome to BioBag’s Community Heroes series! Each month, we will highlight community heroes that are making a difference in their communities and working to make their local environments cleaner and healthier.
This month, we are taking a look at The Urban Canopy!
Founded in 2011, The Urban Canopy works to create a more sustainable, nutritious, and equitable food system in Chicago, from production to distribution to waste. The four pillars of their mission are Nutrition (making healthy produce accessible and available year round), Environment (reducing food waste, food miles, and encouraging sustainable farming practices), Economy (creating local, self-sustaining, meaningful jobs), and Community (empowering our communities to build towards a healthier food system). We spoke to Bonnie Shultz at Urban Canopy about the organization, which you can learn more about in the interview below.
What led you to start your composting operation?
Shultz: What is now our Compost Club started as one part of our plan for a circular and cyclical company and economy when we started our rooftop farm. Our aim from the beginning was addressing current systems as a whole. No one piece of the overall food system is broken – they are all dysfunctional in their own ways – and similarly no one part of the solution can function independently of the others.
We started small by composting the excess plant material from the farm, and shortly after collecting pulp from a juice bar we sold wheatgrass to. A handful of our founder’s friends and other businesses signed on and the first year we launched Compost Club we had just over a dozen members. Our membership now clocks in at just over 3500 homes and businesses.
Who do you serve, and how can people get in touch with you if they want to start composting?
Shultz: We serve much of the Chicagoland area! People can get in touch by visiting our website.
How much organic material do you typically take in on a weekly basis?
Shultz: We averaged 50,943 lbs a week in 2021.
Please give us one fun fact about you or your business.
Shultz: Our first compost collection buckets were landfill bound Jimmy John’s pickle buckets! One of our founders would drive around to Jimmy John’s locations and ask if they had any empties because he saw all the ways our food systems and the foodservice industry are wasteful. Though inorganic waste diversion isn’t our field of expertise, the Urban Canopy’s values center around these sorts of larger picture whole-system reform ideals.
Feel free to add any additional information about your operation as you see fit.
Shultz: We do much more than composting! We have 2 farm operations (indoor and outdoor setups), a CSA program, a processing kitchen that turns would-be wasted produce into shelf-stable consumables, and a distribution branch that aims to save bulk quick-sale produce from the landfill.
If you would like to be featured in a future edition of Community Heroes, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.