Meet Karen Ramsey, co-founder of Food Cycle KC. We sat down with Karen in September to talk about her journey to launch a curbside compost collection business alongside her husband with a focus on supporting community and local agriculture.
In 2019, Karen Ramsey was looking for a change after 20 years in a corporate career.
“I had an opportunity to take a step back and think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my career. My corporate job was challenging and exciting, but after a while, I felt like I was neglecting a side of myself – the side of me that wanted to do something serving the community,” says Ramsey.
With a passion for environmental issues, Ramsey set out to learn everything she could about the current landscape of sustainability efforts and environmentalism in Kansas City. She completed her LEED Green Associate certification, and her research ultimately led her to volunteer on the planning committee for Climate Action KC’s Climate Summit in late 2019.
It was there where the idea for Food Cycle KC, the curbside compost collection company that Ramsey has since co-founded with her husband, Alan Staples, was born.
“I invited my husband to hear the summit’s keynote speaker, which was Paul Hawken, an author and the editor of Drawdown, and Paul’s presentation was all about solutions we already have today that we can implement at a larger scale to help reduce greenhouse gases. Number three on his list was to reduce food waste. Learning that was shocking for Alan and me – a wake-up call, really. It was after that we decided we wanted to do composting and try and make even a small difference.”
Two years later, the couple has turned their desire to make a small difference into a successful business with an aim to support the food cycle full circle. Serving the Kansas side of the metropolitan area, Food Cycle KC now employs six additional part-time employees and processes all the organics and food scraps it collects from customers into compost on a farm property that Ramsey and Staples own in Eudora, Kansas. They provide a portion of the compost back to their customers for use in home gardens. The rest they provide to local community and school gardens.
“We’ve both had really rewarding experiences volunteering with community gardens in the past, and we want to make sure we’re supporting that aspect of the food cycle. We live in Johnson County where approximately 9 percent of the population experiences food insecurity. It’s something most people don’t see. Taking that food waste we collect and turning that into a resource to combat food insecurity is pretty amazing, I think.”
Ramsey says they’ve been particularly excited to connect with the Giving Garden, a community garden in their own city of Eudora, and have been working with the KC Farm School at Gibbs Road to explore opportunities for efficiently getting more compost to more local community gardens.
Their own operations are expanding as well, and Ramsey says, they are always looking for ways to further their mission of helping the environment and the community.
This past spring, they planted their first Giving Grove of fruit trees whose produce they hope to eventually donate to local food pantries.
They were also recently awarded a grant from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to install solar power on their farm that will be used to operate a water pump. The pump will move rainwater they collect off an onsite building onto their compost pile whenever more moisture is needed. They’re also working on improvements that will allow them to reuse more water during their bucket-washing process and conserve potable water.
When asked what the single biggest challenge has been started a new business, Ramsey says it’s the same kind of thing that a lot of other small businesses deal with.
“We’re growing. We have a lot of interest, which is fantastic, but then it’s just trying to keep up with that. How quickly you grow – and being able to keep up with that – is never comfortable with any company. It’s finding that constant balance of growing while serving our current members and our community effectively.”
To learn more about Food Cycle KC or contact Karen Ramsey, visit their website at www.foodcyclekc.com.