Chickens aid composting efforts at south Austin coffee shop

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- Paul Oveisi calls himself a compost turner, a chicken tender, a pond whisperer. He loves composting at Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden, which he co-owns, in south Austin.

Oveisi feeds leftover food scraps from the three full-time food trucks and the bar to about eight chickens on site. The chickens process and digest the food, putting droppings onto a leaf litter that they live on, which is 8-12 inches deep. 

After a few weeks, Oveisi folds that leaf litter into a bin that already contains garden waste, coffee grounds and used tea leaves. Once it overflows, he transfers the mix to a second bin.

This is the point where Oveisi says the compost "cooks," rising up to 165 degrees as the microorganisms breaking down the compost release heat as a by-product. He continues to turn and "cook" the compost for a few more weeks, keeping oxygen in the mix, until he can move it to the final bin, where the compost cures.

Once a month has passed, the cured compost is used in the garden and around the trees of Cosmic Coffee. Oveisi calls it "black gold," because it's a nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer.

Oveisi says this approach to composting feeds the topsoil around the establishment and increases the biological diversity. He has a rainwater system that waters the grounds and garden. 

"We wanted to not just have a no negative impact, we wanted to create a positive impact."

Waste is diverted away from the landfill and Oveisi loves the eggs the chickens provide. The food truck owners and the bartenders can use the fresh veggies and herbs from the garden on their menus.

With Oveisi in charge, the gardening team has breathed new life into the grounds around Cosmic. Set on a 1-acre lot in the middle of a parking lot, Maritza Sabogal considers it an oasis.

"I have two children, and so when they come here, I'm actually able to enjoy coffee and have them play, look at the chickens, look at the water," Sabogal said.

This level of sustainability has earned Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden Austin Office of Sustainability's platinum-level green business award for 2018. As a small establishment that has only been open six months, Oveisi is proud.

"I feel like we might be elevating the conversation a little bit so that other small businesses can see that this is doable. I mean, you can be an auto mechanic and incorporate some of these things into your business."

If you're thinking about composting at home, getting started might be easier than you think. Oveisi says it's mostly mental.

"It's a little intimidating. People are afraid of the bugs and the smell and all that kind of stuff...but once you get the rhythm of it, it's really easy to do."

Feeling inspired? Learn about Austin Resource Recovery's home composting rebate program here.

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