Watch for Compost Ninjas at chili cook-off

Annual event returns to Mount Vernon Saturday

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MOUNT VERNON — This year’s Mount Vernon-Lisbon Chili Cook-off aims to be innovative — and set a trend for the rest of the community to follow.

The annual cook-off takes place from 4 to 7 p.m. in Uptown Mount Vernon at the intersection of First Street and Highway 1.

Up to 25 teams will cook from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to compete for the audience choice and judges awards, as well as cash prizes that total $450.

During the event, guests can purchase a $25 punch card, or pay $1 per “taste” of each team’s chili. Beverages will be available for purchase as well.

Teams can register to compete, or learn more about the event online at

Joe Jennison, director of the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group, said the CDG is partnering this year with Aaron Hanson, owner of The Compost Ninja, a food waste diversion company operating in Linn, Johnson and Iowa counties.

Jennison said the organization, which purchased biodegradable bowls, spoons and napkins for the event, will be encouraging participants and visitors to be mindful of what they may be throwing out.

“We’re doing the best to make this the first zero-waste event in the community,” Jennison said, adding his organization wanted to do something “innovative” for the cook-off’s 10-year anniversary. “If it goes well, it would be a very easy project to redo, to do over several events,” Jennison said. “If this works out, I can see Mount Vernon doing this for every event, but we have to get through the first one first.”

Hanson said he and other volunteers plan to be available to educate Chili Cook-off participants on food waste.

“I’m hoping to educate a couple people, talk to a few of them, make people aware that this is a problem that we have to be accountable for and see if people are interested in stepping up, too. That’s how the trend happens,” Hanson said.

The Compost Ninja works with more than 70 residential households and 3 commercial businesses — including Lion Bridge Brewing Co. and Brewhemia in Cedar Rapids — to divert their food waste, Hanson said.

“Restaurants account for a lot of that material. We’re effectively diverting 90 percent of their food waste,” Hanson said.

For $25 a month, resident can have their bins of food scraps picked up once a week, and twice a week for commercial businesses. In return, users can receive nutrient rich compost, or donate the composted soil to community gardens.

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