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Compost made from food scraps fertilizes farms, vineyards

  • News/ --1 of 3--Elias Soles (CQ) monitors the flow of San Francisco restaurant food srap compost, mixed with corn gluten and pumice, as it is spread along by tractor and hopper at a Santa Rosa vineyard, Wednesday November 16, 2005. In turn, the San Francisco restaurants buy the wines that are produced from the vineyards that use the food scraps from 2,000 eateries in the city. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

Vintner Kathleen Inman loves the notion that kitchen scraps from San Francisco restaurants like Scoma's and The Slanted Door are fertilizing her organic vineyards in west Santa Rosa.

But what Inman loves even more is that her pinot noir, nurtured with kitchen waste, was selected for the wine list at The Slanted Door, the critically acclaimed Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco's Ferry Building.

Charles Phan, executive chef at The Slanted Door, tries to support the farmers and winemakers who use the rich compost concocted from his restaurant scraps. If wines pass the taste test, they go on his list.

"It's gratifying to know that great wines are coming back from vineyards using compost made from our vegetable trimmings, pork bones and the rice scraped off plates," said Phan. "We are all working hand-in-hand."

The Slanted Door is among the 2,000 restaurants in San Francisco and Oakland that send their kitchen trimmings and plate leavings to a Vacaville facility that produces "Four Course" compost. The gourmet compost, available for the past several years, is being used at 75 California farms and vineyards, most of them in Napa and Sonoma counties.

"The loop is complete," said Inman, proprietor of Olivet Grange Vineyard and Inman Family Wines. "The food goes from the farm to the restaurant's kitchen and then from the kitchen back to the vineyard. The vineyard produces wines that go back to the table at the restaurant."

Growers like Inman are taking advantage of the dry, warm weather to apply the rich, pungent compost to vineyards before the next rain storm. Inman considers the compost black gold.

"This is a critical time for us," she said. "It's important to get nutrients back into the soil after harvest. This compost helps recondition the soil, which is crucial to growing healthy vines and grapes."

Inman, who grows grapes organically, is mixing corn meal gluten with her compost. The yellow meal serves as a natural herbicide to kill the grass and weeds that sprout up in the vine row.

"The corn meal or what I'm calling polenta is not only a natural herbicide that is friendly to birds and animals, but also a fertilizer that provides nitrogen to the vines," said Inman.

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