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Bokashi, What? A New Old Way to Compost

June 20, 2012
Join in on an old way to compost with this new Brooklyn company.

Bokashi, an ancient Japanese style of composting, embraces a traditional, efficient way to create new soil while maintaining cleanliness in the process. Thanks to Vanrdra Thorburn and her Brooklyn-based company Vokashi, New Yorkers can try their hands at this ancient practice while cutting down on food waste and providing fresh soil for community gardens and public green spaces.

Bokashi is the Japanese method of fermenting organic matter,” Thorburn explains. “It is the first phase of a two-phase process. The second phase is the actual composting in gardens. So anyone can ferment their organic matter as long as they have a microbial starter and airtight bucket.”

“Fermenting food waste is the simplest, cheapest, easiest way to handle all of organic waste in our kitchens (plant-based organic matter and animal-based organic matter),” she says. “If you have a backyard, then it is easy to add fermented food waste to your compost pile or dig into ground to amend soils.” This method differs in a surprising way from traditional Western composting by allowing animal-based organic matter to be included and using fermentation to initially break the waste down — without bad odors or attracting varmints.

Not everyone, especially in NYC, has a garden so the second part can be a little complicated; this is where Vokashi comes in and does the composting for you. The company currently services Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens, and is looking for a partner in the Bronx. Thorburn also wants to develop pilots in New Jersey and Westchester.

Dubbed by some to be a new food waste solution, bokashi basically ferments food waste by covering it with a mix of microorganisms (a product from the early 1980s called EM1 is made just for this), which cuts the smell and eventually produces soil. Bokashi composters take the fermentation starter, place it on top of the food waste, and seal it in the airtight bucket. A few weeks later, contents are composted in soil.

Vokashi provides subscribers with fresh buckets and its own bran inoculated with EM-1® (the mix of microorganisms), the fermentation starter.  Subscribers fill their buckets with food waste, then Vokashi collects the fermented food waste once a month and processes it at community gardens, in public green spaces as a soil amendment or to build compost sites. The cost is currently $40 for households and $60 for small businesses.

Thorburn first thought about a composting service in 2009 but knew there wasn’t enough leaf in NYC to manage all the food waste. So she turned to the Internet and came across Bokashi and Bokashi New Zealand, and that was the beginning of Vokashi.

“I purchased 450 buckets in May of 2009 imprinted with my name and, with the guidance of an EM-1® expert in Manhattan, began collecting and composting through summer of 2009,” Thorburn says. She incorporated the business in August 2009 and received an Excellence Award in the Brooklyn Public Library’s PowerUp! Business Plan competition in January 2010.

Bokashi is the way to handle organic waste in our kitchens. There is huge potential for innovations in managing fermented food waste as a bioremediation agent and fertilizers. Vokashi is on the leading edge of small business models to encourage household recycling of food waste and building local community-based composting initiatives.”

Go to for more information, or call 718.623.1911.

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