Sitting in the heart of the Cariboo in Williams Lake is “Canada’s only 24/7 drive-through composting service,” laughed Nikki Therrien, the executive director of The Potato House..
The Potato House is a heritage house with a committee of people dedicated to community and sustainability right in the heart of downtown Williams Lake.
“We’ve always had a drive to make sure we are doing what we can for the environment as well as the community,” said Therrien.
She began as the treasurer in 2018 and took over as the executive director in 2022.
Composting, something that can easily be forgotten, is quite important for the environment.
As food fills landfills, oxygen becomes trapped amongst the garbage, therefore being unable to decompose and creating gases harmful to the ozone layer, said Therrien.
As such, they have their “composteur”—a play on the word connoisseur— who works monitoring The Potato House’s compost, where community members can drop off their compost in the non-profit’s labelled bins.
From there, composteur Oliver Berger monitors the temperatures of the compost with a probe. As certain temperatures are reached, the good bacteria can thrive, and the bad bacteria die. This is all meticulously documented each month.
“He works tirelessly to maintain the integrity of our compost,” said Therrien.
Not only does he keep track of the compost’s temperature, but he also goes through it, pulling out what cannot be composted, often food stickers and bread tags.
“He sifts it for us and processes it so it can be used as soil for the community.”
For processing, the compost is thrown into a compost spinner, where debris is filtered out, including wood chunks and other debris such as pumpkin stems.
The end result? Black gold.
Once the soil amendment is ready, it’s bagged up and donated to the local farmers’ market or community members.
The composting piles are located along the alley side of The Potato House, which initially started as The Potato House Sustainable Community Society in 2011 by Mary Forbes, preserving the house from being sold and torn down.
The heritage house was originally built in 1941 by the Borkowski family, who later built several other buildings in Williams Lake. The Quintella family purchased the home in 1956, creating the name “The Potato House.”
Recently, The Potato House has spent the last few years in construction. The non-profit received a grant to fix its crumbling foundation. A crane lifted the house off the foundation and moved it to where the garden beds were while the foundation was rebuilt. Once that was finished, the crane returned the house onto the foundation.
Renovations are still in the works, as the grant has since been exhausted due to the increasing inflation rates that hit during the pandemic. They are currently fundraising so that renovations can be finished and they can resume occupancy.
Last year, The Potato House had a market garden where they produced food and gave it to the community by donation.
“We ended up feeding a lot of hungry community members. Food scarcity is a real problem everywhere.”
While they didn’t have funding to have a garden this year, they have applied for grants and hope to have their market garden ready to go for next year.
In the meantime, Therrien said they’re always looking for volunteers, a place that offers great community, including for Therrien, who found community through The Potato House after moving to Williams Lake from Alberta in 2011. Babies kept her inside, but The Potato House got her out of the house.
For those looking to get into composting themselves, it’s quite easy.
Therrien recommended putting food scraps into an ice cream pail. If you’re concerned about the smell or food rotting, throw it into the freezer to preserve it. Once it’s full, you can drop it off at The Potato House 24/7.
For those composting in their backyard, Therrien said, “The key to healthy compost is balance. Make sure you’re layering in carbons like dry leaves or ripped-up newspaper and turning the compost to make sure it is aerated.”
It should also be bear-safe.
The Potato House can be found at 49 Borland Street in Williams Lake.