Discover Dirt Wain: A community-scale composting service gaining momentum in Fort Wayne

Composting has been part of Brett Bloom’s life ever since he got his start as a young boy at his grandparents’ garden.

“Often, my grandparents would have me bury my table scraps in their kitchen garden in the summer,” Bloom says. “I really loved doing that, and there was no word for it. We were just sort of returning the nutrients to the land.”

Little did he know at the time, but he was composting—recycling organic materials into the soil rather than sending them to the landfill where they contribute to the greenhouse gas, methane.

Composting recycles organic materials into the soil rather than sending them to the landfill where they contribute to the greenhouse gas, methane.

According to the United Nations, methane emissions from food waste are responsible for up to eight percent of the global carbon footprint.

Concerned about this often overlooked issue, Bloom developed a service called Dirt Wain in a northeast Fort Wayne neighborhood to build a movement around community-scale composting.

Kurt Roembke dumps food waste into Dirt Wain's community-scale compost bin located in the North Anthony neighborhood in Fort Wayne.

At Dirt Wain, Bloom serves as “an artist in residence,” tapping into his background as an artist, publisher, educator, and activist to foster a creative approach to composting and sustainability issues on a local scale.

“I think it’s really critical that folks know that sort of passively throwing their food scraps into a landfill is producing enormous amounts of methane,” he says.

A batch of compost containing paper straws from the Health Food Shoppe in Fort Wayne.

Prior to launching Dirt Wain, he spent about 30 years in the Summit City and recently relocated back to the area after being involved with community gardening and composting in Chicago for several years.

He was convinced to start a community-scale composting pilot program in Fort Wayne after a coworker at his day job noticed that many of his neighbors were open to the idea of composting in their urban neighborhood.

“There’s a growing consciousness around ecological issues and a desire on behalf of many people to have less of an impact and to be really conscious about how their lives produce all these waste streams,” he says.

An Dirt Wain in-home compost bucket.

Bloom then spent time researching how other communities have tackled organic waste recovery and reuse on a community scale. In particular, he looked at Michigan’s Detroit Dirt zero waste initiative as an inspiration for Dirt Wain’s model.

When Bloom launched the service, he started small with a community-scale composting bin at a private residence in the North Anthony Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, picking up compost buckets from subscribers on a bike.

“Dirt Wain got rolling through just good, old-fashioned community-organizing—grassroots, a little bit of social media, and by word of mouth,” Bloom explains.

Dirt Wain's new trailer with a 1,600 pound load of food waste from Chick-fil-A on Coliseum Blvd. in Fort Wayne.

The program in the North Anthony Neighborhood has since expanded to include pick-up service for the entire 46805 zip code in northeast Fort Wayne.

“There’s been a really enthusiastic support so far for this,” he says. “I didn’t expect it to take off so quickly. I’ve kinda had to hold it back a bit so it doesn’t get out of control.”

In addition to pick-up service, Dirt Wain now offers a drop-off site and processor at Salomon Farm Park, a city park in northern Fort Wayne near the city's wealthy suburban areas.

Many of these neighborhoods have restrictive covenants prohibiting composting in backyards. Bloom discovered these areas were home to people who wanted to compost, but didn’t have an outlet for it.

Dirt Wain's community-scale compost bin located in the North Anthony neighborhood in Fort Wayne.

In addition to the Salomon Farm Park partnership, Dirt Wain has also partnered with Fort Wayne’s Farmers Market to offer a drop-off service at their year-round weekly markets in downtown Fort Wayne.

As for the future of Dirt Wain, Bloom is in talks with multiple community associations as well as private businesses.

“I hope to be doing this on a much larger scale,” he says. “I’m trying to figure out how to get a lot more people involved.”

Dirt Wain offers community-scale composting in Fort Wayne.

In the long-run, he hopes community-scale compost collection services will eventually shift from third party entities like Dirt Wain to being a municipal service provided by cities and towns in northeast Indiana.

“This is something municipalities should be doing,” Bloom says. “It’s way past time, and what’s the political reality of that?”

Learn more

For more information about Dirt Wain, visit their website or call (260) 376-0353.