Vivian Companion used to garden for fun. But three years after discovering her green thumb, she wanted to try to feed her family organically without depending on the grocery store. This summer she tripled the size of her garden, spent $300 on compost and crossed her fingers she would succeed.
"The tops were looking weird and I just thought it was due to the heat," Companion said.
Turns out her tomato plants were growing in contaminated compost she purchased from the Chittenden Solid Waste District. And she's not alone.
"My home garden had 24 tomato plants that just aren't doing anything. They're stunted and demented and they're not growing," Tom Moreau said.
Moreau is CSWD's general manager, but he's also a gardener and understands firsthand how frustrating this problem is.
"We're saddened about the gardeners who bought our product and had poor performance. That's not what we're here for," Moreau said.
CSWD has figured out that horse manure and bedding, as well as grass clippings laced with herbicides are the sources of the contamination. So even though composting continues at the plant, none of it is for sale.
But customers who purchased their compost from the solid waste district before June 27 may now be eligible for compensation. CSWD estimates half of its compost has been contaminated. More than 450 customers have filed complaints so far. The solid waste district voted Wednesday to shell out up to $1 million to pay people back their purchase price, as well as make restitutions for lost crops. CWSD also wants to buy back any unused compost that was bought before July 13.
"There's no doubt in our minds that there's been damage done," Moreau said.
To get the refund customers must have their receipt and prove their plants were damaged. Once they file a complaint, field technicians will visit their gardens to check that the contaminated compost is the culprit. In the meantime, the Vt. Health Department says the veggies are safe to eat. But for organic gardeners like Companion--she's not taking any chances on the chemicals.
"It crushes me because it is such a waste," she said.
So as she waits for her refund she watches her food rot, not willing to donate anything she wouldn't eat herself.
Applications for refunds must be made by the end of September. If customers are not satisfied with their compensation package they can appeal it.
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