Member Accomplishment: DeKalb Co. Composts Festival Pumpkins

Our thanks to IFSC member Michelle Gibson of the DeKalb County Health Department for sharing this success story and writing this blog post!

Illinois is the largest producer of pumpkins in the United States.  Every year Sycamore, Illinois hosts their annual Pumpkin Festival, a celebration of pumpkins. The weeklong festival presents a great opportunity to compost pumpkins after Halloween.

The Sycamore Pumpkin Festival dates back to 1956, when Wally Thurow, who is known as Sycamore’s "Mr. Pumpkin," began displaying a few decorated pumpkins on his front lawn to turn Halloween into a time of fun and creativity. In 1962, through the efforts of Mr. Pumpkin and the Sycamore Lions Club, the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival became an official celebration in Sycamore.

Every year, the Pumpkin Festival unites more than 30 DeKalb County non-profit groups working to provide a weekend of Halloween fun for all. The Courthouse lawn is the center of activities, including thousands of decorated pumpkins on display, there are also arts and craft shows, a house walk, a pie eating contest, a carnival, a fun fair, a 10K race and other events. The festival is concluded by a giant parade on Sunday afternoon.

DeKalb County (where Sycamore is located) saw a tremendous opportunity in Pumpkin Fest to collect and compost pumpkins.  The DeKalb County Health Department’s Solid Waste and Recycling Program teamed up with Waste Management to make sure the pumpkins were composted.   Over 1,100 pumpkins were collected at Pumpkin Fest in 2016. Waste Management also stationed three collection containers throughout the city of DeKalb for residents to recycle their pumpkins.

Over 8 tons of pumpkins were collected saving 1,720 gallons of water.  It was a successful first step for DeKalb County towards their Zero Waste Goals. DeKalb County will continue to compost pumpkins, each year after Halloween and work on other waste diversion efforts as well.   

large group of decorated pumpkins on the ground in a town square at feet of man with microphone

Member Accomplishment: Little Village Environmental Justice Organization Hosts Composting Workshops

Community members adding compost to a garden plotThe mission of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) of Chicago, IL is to organize with the community to accomplish environmental justice in Little Village and achieve the self-determination of immigrant, low-income, and working-class families. Their vision is to build a sustainable community that promotes the healthy development of youth and families, provides economic justice, and practices participatory democracy and self-determination. The group’s 1.5 acre Semillas de Justicia garden began five years ago, when a strong oil smell was detected emanating from the Troy street site and brought to LVEJO's attention. It was discovered that site was being used to deposit leftover oil barrels. LVEJO organized with Troy street neighbors to demand that this site be cleaned up and transformed into a community garden. Today, the Troy garden blooms with a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and flowers for the enjoyment of the community. The garden is a center for community dinners, bike repair workshops, art classes for children, a Fall Harvest Fest, and several other educational workshops.

LVEJO shared with IFSC their recent experience with offering composting workshops. "Composting at our Semillas de Justicia Community Garden in Little Village wasn't the most efficient at the beginning of the year," a representative noted. "We decided to partner up with NeighborSpace and Nance Klehm to clean up our system and start new in a communal way. We hosted a series of Community Composting 101 workshops that consisted of understanding the basics of composting as it relates to gardening and neighbors waste. We walked around our garden, studied the ways our old system could be improved and highlighted the other different forms of composting already existing at the garden such as our vermicomposting boxes, and our passive dry leaves bin."

"Tclose up of person mending wire around compost binhese series of workshops led to more Semillas gardeners becoming invested in our composting system. Thanks to the Community Composting 101 workshops, we were able to communally repair a 5 Cubic Yard composting bin, along with a couple of smaller bins which has tremendously upgraded our ability to compost food scraps, and yard waste at the Semillas de Justicia Community Garden in a clean, odorless, and efficient way. This educational system is set-up so all Semillas gardeners, including youth, can participate in garden composting all year round. We had between 7 and 15 gardeners present at all Community Composting workshops. The garden went from 3 people actively composting to about 10 who are currently managing our different composting systems."

It’s great to see this community group making composting a more communal effort! If you’re interested in learning more about LVEJO, visit their web site at


multiple people repairing a compost bin

DeKalb County Green Living Festival

IFSC Guest Blog Series by Michelle Gibson, Solid Waste Specialist for DeKalb County Health Department

Caring for the environment is not just for elite, well-educated people. Caring for the environment is everyone's duty. Environmental stewardship should unite people regardless of class, race, social economic status or education level. The Illinois Food Scrap Coalition seeks to elevate all efforts to promote environmental stewardship as it relates to composting food scraps. IFSC would like to highlight the DeKalb Green County Living Festival. This event is significant because it took place at the DeKalb County Health Department. The location is important because the Health Department's population encompasses the whole County. Everyone, at some point in their life, will need to visit the Health Department because of the wide range of services offered.  

DeKalb Green Living FestivalThe Green Living Festival's aim was to bring environmental stewardship to populations who otherwise, would not be exposed to it. Over half of the clientele at the Health Department receive government subsidized food assistance know as WIC (Women Infant and Children Supplemental Food Program). Low-income families don't always have environmental stewardship at the forefront of their mind. The intent of the festival was to introduce them to composting as well as other aspects of environmental stewardship. Families attended seminars and visited booths teaching them about environmental stewardship. Families were shown how they can be more involved in the food cycle, beyond shopping at the grocery store and discardiFood cycle diagramng food waste. They started by touring the community gardens located on the Health Department's campus.Community gardens are open to anyone and produce is offered for free to WIC clients. After picking out fresh produce, they were shown healthy recipe demonstrations from the food they picked up. In line with the major mission of IFSC, they were given a seminar on composting food scraps and using them to help in their own gardens. The families who did not wish to participate in the community garden program were offered buckets to collect food scraps. They can drop the buckets off at the community gardens and exchange them weekly. These food scraps will provide vital nutrients for the gardens.  Families also received tips on energy efficiency from Com Ed, Nicor and the Citizen's Utility Board. The DeKalb Public Library bought out children's books on environmental stewardship and healthy living. Other groups such as the YMCA, Adventure Works and Live Healthy DeKalb provided hands on kid's activities to promote physical activity and healthy eating. Families who attended this event left with lots of great information about composting food scraps, gardening and environmental stewardship.  Attendees at green living festival

Page 1 of 5