The Isla Vista Compost Collective

By Stella Haffner   |   March 8, 2022
A Dirtrider with one of their colorful, distinctive cargo trailers

When I first heard the term “Dirtrider,” I imagined something á la Mel Gibson in Mad Max. But far from being chrome and oil junkies as we might associate with the apocalyptic franchise, Dirtriders are the lean, green worker bees of the Isla Vista Compost Collective.

Founded in 2017, the Isla Vista Compost Collective (IVCC) started as a student project with the hope of making composting easy, free, and accessible to all Isla Vista residents. The green initiative is now a fully functional compost pick-up service, with five years in operation and big accomplishments to boast. In 2021 alone, the IVCC diverted over 20,000-pounds of food waste from the landfill — an amount equivalent to offsetting nearly 16,000 miles worth of CO2 emission from your car. Today, the IVCC is setting its ambitions to address all steps of the food loop from growing produce, distributing fresh, organic food, and decomposing it into healthy soil.

To find out more about the initiative, pick up some facts about composting, and receive an introduction to the idea of “food sovereignty,” I spoke to the dedicated hands behind the IVCC. At the helm of my all-green learning experience was Chloe McKerr, current UCSB undergraduate and student Operations Manager of the IVCC. 

Q. You collect food waste from 130 houses in Isla Vista, and you divert it from the landfill by compositing it. What does your next step look like?

A. We are looking into distributing our compost. In the near future, we would like to give people our finished compost, so they can use it and incorporate it into their own gardens and use that healthy soil to cultivate their own foods to produce a circular economy with our foods. We want to keep it in the community rather than going to grocery stores, so our goal is to be both the starting and the finishing point. We help people start growing their food, and we put it back into the soil when it’s ready — it’s the cycle of food.

You maintain your own compost pile to decompose the food, but how do you know when it’s done?

Typically, weeks after the pile has maintained a hot temperature, the pile will start to cool down and reduce in size. It develops a deep earthy scent and becomes more crumbly in texture as the food has decomposed. Right now, we’re in the process of trying to buy a testing kit, so we’ll look at mineral content, ratio of nitrogen in the compost, test for pH level, everything to make sure we’re handing out a good product.

The IVCC collects food waste from 130 homes throughout Isla Vista

Who oversees the compost pile maintenance?

Our Dirtriders. They’re the backbone of our operations. I used to be a Dirtrider. It was some stinky work, but it was some awesome work. I think it’s really about knowing what you’re doing and knowing how you’re benefiting the environment and the community that keeps you going.

How did you get the name “Dirtrider”?

Our founder Jacob Bider wanted them to be known as Dirtriders instead of compost collectors. He had this idea of us riding our bikes around the community, and I think he wanted it to be a familiar symbol, someone you knew. We ride around in pretty recognizable orange, yellow, and green colors with our logo on the back of our cargo trailers, picking up the compost from each of our participant houses. Aside from the food scrap work, our Dirtriders are also in charge of creating a good relationship with our participants and community members. They’re available by text to ask questions about composting, and overall they serve as good friends to the community.

Is it true this service is completely free?

We pay our Dirtriders, but the service is completely free to our participant households. IV is full of busy, working people, and it’s important to us to make this service accessible to everyone.

In your mission statement you talk about the ideas of food justice and food sovereignty. Can you tell me what this means to your operation?

We believe that people have the right to know where their food is grown and what went into its production. When we rely on big name grocery stores, we don’t have access to this information, and we just have to accept the price they’re going to sell it to us – no matter the country of origin or the working conditions. Food sovereignty is a community having full say in what they eat. This is part of closing the food loop. We want to be at both ends of the food life cycle, go beyond composting, and promote people’s access to affordable and healthy food.  

If you’re interested in learning more about the Isla Vista Compost Collective, you can visit their website at If you currently live in Isla Vista or know someone who does and would like to donate your non-perishables to Food on Wheels, you can reach out to IVCC’s Instagram @ivcompostcollective, and they will pick up your donations directly from your door.


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