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A follow-up interview with Russ Cohn, President of NatureMill - Aug 2005
It has been just over a year since we last spoke can you give us an update? We heard your product changed a little?

Our customers have taught us some very interesting (and unexpected) things about indoor home composting. For one thing, they want an indicator light to tell them when the compost is ready. So we added a blinking red light - now there is no more guessing or checking up on progress. The new unit is also about 10 inches shorter – about the size of a kitchen trash bin - yet it still handles enough food for a family of 5. Another “must have” feature we added is a food pedal to open the lid – I guess our engineers don’t do enough cooking to realize that there are never enough hands in the kitchen.

The most important change is that we can manufacture this product in high enough quantities to keep up with demand. That was a real problem with the old unit. We really had no idea there would be so much demand. We started this whole thing to make our own compost and help out or friends and families. With the old design there was a lot of manual assembly and we just couldn't manufacture them fast enough.
Can you give us examples of some of the feedback you received from people using the product?

People are really surprised about the lack of odors. When they think compost, they envision the furthest corner of their backyard away from the house (and preferably down wind). We hear a lot of "oh wow - no smell." It really has no odors and that takes some getting used to.

We get a lot of questions about the capacity. Some people wonder if the unit is too small for their families, while others assume it's too big. I suspect that most people really don't know how to gauge the size because they've never weighted their food waste. So we created a very wide capacity range: you can add as little as ½ lb per day, or as much as 5 lbs per day, and still get excellent quality compost. That's a pretty wide range - definitely wide enough for a single person living alone, all the way up to a family of 5 who eats at home often. Most households fluctuate anyway: eating out on weekends, then throwing away lots of leftovers, then going away for vacation, then having a dinner party.

Another piece of feedback we hear is that people appreciate the low power consumption (10 watts), but they want all the automatic features like motorized mixing and continuous air filtering. We made a great effort to use the compost’s own heat to do most of the work, thus minimizing the need for electrical power. We’ve even had a few requests for a solar powered option – and we’re going to work on that too!

To our surprise, we are finding that even people in rural areas are using NatureMill. They have plenty of outdoor space to build an old fashioned compost pile, and they have plenty of compost knowledge. But they also have bears. Or arthritis. Or frozen winters. All these things can make outdoor composting impossible. We always had assumed that all our customers would be urban apartment dwellers.

Can you be more specific about a few of the significant new enhancements?

One feature I really like is that you don't have to keep adding compost cultures, or any other feed material, as with most compost systems. The machine retains a small amount of finished compost after each load, so in a way it replenishes itself with hot, fresh compost cultures. This saves a lot of money in the long term, and is very convenient too.

Another real luxury is the reference sheet right there on the lid of the machine. It tells you exactly what you can compost and what you can’t. It’s in very simple language. There is no more confusion about greens and browns, pH and moisture. It seems simple, but most compost systems just leave you in the lurch.

My personal favorite feature is the self-cleaning design. The non-stick surfaces and stainless steel components deflect all the waste right down into the reactor, where it composts happily away. We’ve even given the exterior a “granite” color treatment to hide fingerprints. It’s enough to make a Sub-zero jealous! My old compost tumbler, on the other hand, was so ugly I had to hide it behind a fence.

The new control panel sounds like a great enhancement, can you explain how it works?

The new control panel has just one button. How easy is that! When the hopper fills up, just press the button to transfer the compost down into the reactor, and then you can add more waste items again. That’s really all there is to it. There isn’t even a clock to set. I’m really tired of having to “operate” all the other devices around my house, with all these beeps and dials. This is much easier. We’ve put a lot of intelligence into the software, so you can focus on gardening and cooking instead of managing your compost pile.

The control panel also tells you when the compost is mixing, so you can follow along with the process. You can tell when the material is being transferred from the hopper where you add the food waste, into the reactor where the real composting happens, and finally into the cure tray where it waits until it’s ready to be emptied. It’s really quite fascinating to observe composting being made, and yet not have to do any work yourself. To me it’s a little like watching an ice cream machine. Except you really don’t want to eat this stuff.

In our last interview you explained the process and how the product works. (link to old interview) With this new design does the unit perform the same?

The basic operation is the same: add food and paper waste at any time, on any day; remove finished compost roughly every two weeks. The underlying biology hasn't changed in a few million years. It would be very difficult for us to improve upon science. You see, the compost cultures are doing all the real work. We're just automating the air flow, mixing, and moisture control to give the cultures the environment they like so they can work as fast as possible.

You’re doing the same thing with a backyard compost pile when you turn it to increase oxygen flow, water it to maintain the right moisture level, and monitor the temperature to check its progress. We’ve merely automated the pitch fork, the garden hose, and the thermometer.

We also provide a very substantial carbon filter to remove the musty smells that are usually associated with compost. This is important to me since my kitchen table is about 4 feet away from my compost machine. We don’t have a refreshing breeze in our house, so odor control is an important feature.

Has anyone approached you yet to use the product in education, since it can be placed inside of a school building?

We certainly get orders from schools, from non-profit organizations, and from gardening clubs and nurseries. They are busy people too and don't have enough hours in the day to turn their compost piles. Most compost piles are frozen solid during the winter months so it's hard to fit them into a class schedule. You can use NatureMill all year round, anywhere in the world.

What does the future look like for NatureMill?

We've had a lot of interest in a jumbo version. So we're thinking of a unit that is 3 times larger for small restaurants, cafeterias, offices, etc. We're also thinking pink - and red, and turquoise, and all those other trendy colors. Those seem to be all the rage with blenders and iPods. Compost has come a long way from the big black monsters of old!

Thanks to everyone who contributed a question. If you would like to see future articles on the Kitchen Composter and have a question or comment please send it to us! (Don't forget to mention this article or Kitchen Composter in your message) - For more information make sure you check out their web site at www.naturemill.com - Happy Composting! -