Composting Champion of the Week
27 July 2018
Interview With Todd Mills, founder
27 July 2018 | Article & Photos by Katie Carey
Any Farm-To-Table enthusiast in Columbus knows about Acre: The fast-casual restaurant is locally-famous for it's Ohio-sourced ingredients and veggie-heavy dishes. In Acre’s dining room, a humble chalkboard reading “Local Partners” hangs, listing the Ohio-based farms, bakeries, seedmills, and coffee shops from which Acre sources it’s ingredients. Another chalkboard boasts it’s free range-meats, organic whole grains, seasonal produce, and house-made sauces.
But hungry Columbus diners didn’t always have the pleasure of stopping into Acre for Polenta Cakes or a Strawberry rhubarb crumble bar.
The conception of Acre came only after Todd Mills, Acre’s founder and owner, worked as the Director of Development for Local Matters, a Columbus non-profit whose mission is to create healthy communities through food education, access, and advocacy.
Seeing firsthand the impact of fresh, local food on Columbus communities, Todd opened Acre in 2014 in the Old North. Now, four years later and with locations in Clintonville and Grandview, Acre still embodies the “farm-to-table” vision in it’s seasonally-inspired, fresh dishes, rotating every 4-6 weeks.
“We source as many ingredients as we can from Ohio,” Todd confirms. In the winter, this means offering dishes which feature Ohio staples like corn, dairy products, meats, and whatever local vegetables they can find.
Acre really shines in the summer months though, when growing season is at it's peak and local farms are bursting with wide varieties of fruits and vegetables. Todd explains “during the summer, we’re able to show off Ohio produce in fun ways,” with each dish featuring a wide variety of seasonal, local ingredients.
Starting with raw ingredients and preparing dishes from scratch also allows Acre to leave out highly processed foods and additives, prioritizing health and nutrition too.
Along with emphasizing healthy, local ingredients in their seasonal dishes, Todd knew that sustainability would also serve as a key value in Acre’s creed. Since Acre prepares dishes from scratch and highlights Ohio produce, each dish typically features more vegetables per plate than an average restaurant.
“We have a lot of vegetable scrap material,” Todd states simply.
With all of those vegetable scraps, Acre quickly found that composting, and finding a reliable composting service, was essential to the restaurant’s operations if they wanted to divert their valuble food-waste from a land fill. Though they worked with one commercial composting facility in the first two years of opening, a dilemma arose when the facility stopped operating in the Central Ohio area: Acre had massive amounts of food scraps, but no where to recycle them.
“When the opportunity to work with Innovative Organics [Recycling] came along, it was great timing,” Todd says. “We try to operate as sustainably as possible [and] we work with businesses that share those values.” Acre quickly joined Innovative Organics Recycling’s client list in January of 2017.
With Acre's from-scratch, veggie-centric cooking methods, the restaurant produces a whopping average of 1,300 pounds of compostable scraps a week.
But with all those food scraps, does the kitchen staff tire of using a compost system, instead of just throwing it in the garbage?
“Not at all,” Todd responds, “Our whole staff cares about things like that, and they come to us with that in mind. As a team, we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
As for Acre’s guests, Todd plans in the future to place compost bins in the dining areas and educate guests on how to utilize them (though he estimates that roughly 95% of Acre’s food scraps come from the kitchen, not the customer). Until then, Acre still places sustainability at the center of their service: guests who dine-in are served on dishware, rather than disposables, and all take-away items are compostable, giving folks who get take-out the choice of diverting waste.
“We’re just trying to be a good steward of the community, and a good community partner.” Todd grins, “That was always the plan.”