Rust Belt Riders is a company that was formed in 2014 by two people who developed an interest in composting after working in a community garden. They noticed how much food waste restaurants were throwing into landfills and saw the benefits composting could have for their garden, the restaurants and the environment. By composting food waste from local businesses, hospitals and universities, founders Dan Brown and Mike Robinson, along with two other employees, are able to save thousands of pounds of food waste each month.
The sense of humor both Brown and Robinson had immediately gave me an authentic view of their company. By utilizing their service skills and knowledge from working in community gardens, they were able to combine service and garden to create a well-organized, involved business. Dan described them as “garbage men who specialize in food waste,” even though it is evident that they are doing much more than just disposing of food.
The biggest client of Rust Belt Riders is University Hospitals, who, after a little less than two months working with them, composted almost 12,000 pounds of food waste at just two of their branches. Other clients they work with include universities, grocery stores, corporate offices, restaurants and juice bars, all of which compost large amounts of food each month as well. As the business progresses they hope it will extend to a wider range of universities and even more hospitals.
However, before they got to the point of success they are at now, Brown and Robinson had to find ways to educate themselves about what composting truly entails. They said it wasn’t difficult to get the business moving because as Brown explained, they “built the ship as they were flying it,” or rather finding more efficient ways to carry out their business as they were doing business.
“We just found ourselves in the perfect storm of fortunate events,” said Robinson regarding how the business became so successful so fast. They told me how various coincidences seemed to lead them to where they are now.
One of which, Robinson explained, was extremely perfect for their specific circumstance. He told of how they had a neighbor who was working for Detroit Shoreway Community Development Corporation who mentioned to them about a fundraiser the company was having for community ideas. This same neighbor said his company spent close to $100,000 the previous year on a feasibility study for community composting and asked them if they would want to look at it. From this spiraled many opportunities to allow their company to grow and make the community aware of their mission.
Though finding ways to promote their business in order to gain more clients is important, the mission of Rust Belt Riders appeared to extend beyond that. Their commitment to educating the public about the importance of composting is something that struck me as very appealing about their company. Utilizing social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, they are able to connect with potential clients, while also promoting their message. In addition to this, they attend various community events such as Burning River Fest and NeoCycle. They mentioned that these types of events often lead them to people who have, “already drank the Kool Aid of environmentalism,” which allows them the ability to connect with individuals and learn about different ways to approach their work.
Brown said, “The more we can educate the public about the importance of managing food waste responsibly, the more of a dialogue that is generated . . . and presently we’re one of only a couple companies that are doing this in Ohio, so it kind of inevitably comes back to us.”
More people seem to be coming increasingly aware of why composting is important, and how it relates to issues such as climate change and world hunger. Dan emphasized the fact that keeping food waste out of landfills is a really simple way to address the problems of climate change, while also having copious tangible benefits. It is definitely much easier for people to think about 20,000 pounds of food waste than to think about carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
I was curious where they got the name Rust Belt Riders from because it seemed like a peculiar name for a company that provides the services that they do.
When I asked them about the name, Dan said, “So I’ve always had, like, a love affair with the Rust Belt.”
He explained how he felt a business like Rust Belt Riders can really only be effective in a city like Cleveland, where having access to community gardens and raising a small amount of money can go a long way. They decided to put “Riders” on the end because when they first began the company, the only transportation they used were bikes. The bikes were cheaper and more efficient to begin with, and they wanted to be a company that could prove they didn’t have to pollute in order to create jobs and run an efficient business. However, as the number of clients grew, so did the distance they needed to travel, and eventually they had to invest in trucks.
Another very crucial piece of their company is the importance they place on their employees. With only four people working for Rust Belt Riders currently, including Brown and Robinson, getting everything accomplished that is needed is not difficult. Robinson said, “On top of all the environmental benefits, a goal would be to create a workplace that the people that are working there are actively engaged in the direction of the firm.” Brown and Robinson want dedicated employees who are excited about the work they are doing. If they have this, it becomes much easier to get people in the community of Cleveland enthusiastic about learning about composting.
The originality of Rust Belt Riders is based in their commitment to involving as many people as they can in their mission to help improve the environment and the lives of the people around them. The components that go into creating a business that does good for the community can be complicated, but Brown and Robinson were able to make it seem like a fun, fulfilling process. While they do their best to serve as many businesses as they can around Cleveland, their excited activism within the community made me eager to learn about composting and everything it has to offer. Having learned more than I imagined I would about their company, I am now extremely interested to see how Rust Belt Riders continues to grow and bring to light why composting is so important for our world.