Dianne Plunkett Latham

Diane Plunkett Latham recycling organics in her kitchenApril 2020 -- Dianne Plunkett Latham is well known to gardening aficionados in and around Edina. Her half-acre property in the Indian Trails Neighborhood is a mainstay on area garden tours – and for good reason. It boasts more than 400 varieties of plants. A gazebo and fishpond, each positioned to offer excellent views, complete this cul-de-sac urban oasis. 

While impressive on the face of it, Plunkett Latham’s green thumb and work ethic extend beyond what’s on display outside her home on any given day.

“I am active on the Edina Garden Council, and donate about 1,000 plants each year to the Council’s annual Plant Sale,” she said. Held most years over Mother’s Day weekend, this sale raises significant funds for public beautification projects throughout the City. The Edina Garden Council also hands out many dozens of Plunkett Latham’s home-grown annuals every summer during the Fourth of July parade. 

Naturally, an operation on this scale requires the right tools. Plunkett Latham estimates that nearly 2,000 pots are in storage under her deck, and she certainly owns her fair share of gardening gloves. She is also immensely fond of her compost tumbler, an investment that started paying dividends almost immediately. 

Compost tumblers come in different shapes and sizes, but are all essentially plastic barrels suspended over the ground. As the name suggests, they have a handle that allows a gardener to mix up organic waste without mess. Doing so introduces oxygen, expediting the natural decomposition process and creating nutrient-rich compost.

While the compost tumbler keeps Plunkett Latham’s cottage industry running, it does have something of an Achille’s heel. “It’s no good to me in winter, unfortunately.” During the long winter months, and when she has more scrap than she can productively use as compost, Plunkett Latham avails herself of curbside organics pick-up. 

Vierkant Disposal, the hauler that handles this pick-up, is a company Plunkett Latham knows well. For nearly eight years, she sat on the Edina Energy & Environment Commission. During her tenure and beyond, Plunkett Latham worked with the City and Vierkant to roll out a source-separated organics program built on existing Twin Cities models.

At the time, Carver County’s reclamation procedures offered a particularly compelling case study. “As we found out, organics pick-up from that area was taken eventually to the Arboretum for their gardening needs. ... Vierkant made the necessary arrangements to haul Edina’s waste down there as well. It wasn’t a terribly big ask back then, because maybe one in 10 Edina households took part at the time.”

That was more than a decade ago. In the years since, the voluntary participation rate in organics recycling has shot up considerably. In a continuation on that trajectory, the City in 2019 greenlit a plan to make comprehensive organics compositing pick-up (in addition to but apart from yard waste collection) standard throughout Edina.

“Food waste and related organics are a huge contributor to landfills,” Plunkett Latham noted. As a mitigation measure, “Hennepin County and the [Minnesota Pollution Control] Agency recently set expectations for larger communities to have citywide organics collection in place by January 2022.” 

“I think the City has set ours up to be as easy as it can possibly be,” she added. 

For residents unaccustomed to sorting organics waste from landfill-bound garbage, Plunkett Latham has a few tips. “Look for the [BPI] logo on your empty food containers.” Also, don’t be afraid to take things apart. As an example, her favorite ice cream comes in a cardboard tub that is organics eligible once a plastic seal is removed from the lid. Other such pointers are available on the City’s website.

While a backyard organics tumbler is impractical for most Edina families, “this is something we can all do – without even making special trips – to make a positive environmental impact.”