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Biltmore Estate processes 60 tons of compost monthly with new facility

Jan 22, 2024

The Biltmore Estate will now be capable of producing a whopping 1,200 tons of compost on a yearly basis with an onsite compost facility completed May 2023.

The facility was built by local company Advanced Composting Technologies, which has also built similar facilities for municipalities and nearby schools including Warren Wilson College and Appalachian State University.

Natural Resource Coordinator for the Biltmore Estate Eli Winkenwerder told the Citizen Times that Biltmore staff has wasted no time in utilizing the new equipment to process massive amounts of waste into rich soil.

“We are making compost every day,” said Winkenwerder. “We’re usually dealing with about 17,000 pounds of food bimonthly from the estate."

Though the Biltmore staff was already composting much of the estate's organic waste with a traditional herbaceous compost pile, the new facility allows them to process back-of-house, pre-consumer food waste, huge amounts of manure from the estate’s animals and even meat and bones.

Winkenwerder said that in total, adding the 72,000 pounds of manure he receives bimonthly from the estate’s livestock, his team is currently processing 60 tons of compost monthly, with a capacity for more.

"Biltmore eventually plans to collect post-consumer waste, that is food from guest plates in restaurants, once settled in to the new facility system," according to a news release from Biltmore Estate..

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The project is in line not only with the estate's efforts toward sustainability, but was also inspired by George Vanderbilt’s original vision of a self-sustaining estate, the news release said.

Winkenwerder said that Frederick Law Olmstead, Vanderbilt’s original landscape architect, was interested specifically in using the massive amount of manure produced by the estate’s pigs, horses and other livestock as its primary source of fertilizer.

Today, the Biltmore Estate’s team is using more sophisticated methods to improve on Olmstead’s original methods of sustainability. With the amount of animals owned and boarded by the Biltmore Company, animal waste is just as useful as fertilizer as it was in the 1880s.

“We have about an 80-stall boarding facility here where private boarders keep their horses and I get their shavings, and also the manure from them every day,” said Winkenwerder. “That's usually about 2,000 pounds a day that I'm getting from them.”

The new composting facility does not need to be manually turned like standard compost bins, but instead uses air compressors to aerate the compost as it is ground in the large till. The final product is rich, fertile soil that Biltmore employees can use to care for their thousands of flowers and elaborate landscaping.

The compost facility is part of a 10-year strategic sustainability plan at the Biltmore Estate. Some more projects Winkenwerder mentioned include producing canola oil to use for a biodiesel program, and their solar fields which currently supply roughly 20% of energy used at the inn and village.

Winkenwerder also said that Biltmore’s famous blooms will soon provide more than just natural beauty to the landscape.

“We've always grown sunflowers in the summer that lined the road out towards the winery,” said Winkenwerder. “And you know, we've grown those because they're pretty, and people like to look at them, but now we're actually keeping them there. And we've started collecting and pressing those sunflowers, so that we can make sunflower oil that we use in our restaurants as well as sell.”

The composting facilities are providing the Biltmore Estate and its visitors with the opportunity to honor Vanderbilt’s original vision for the land, while adapting to a changing world.

“I just hope that we can get this information out there and have people know what we're doing — trying to keep being the best stewards of this land that we could, which has always kind of been the vision, but you know, we really want to continue to be on the cutting edge of these technologies,” said Winkenwerder.

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Iris Seaton is a news intern for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Please support local, daily journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.