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Young Couple Leaves the City to Build a Sustainable Composting Business in a Small Town


TESSA AND DAVIS
SCRAP DOGS COMPOST
NEW YORK CITY to ROCKLAND, MAINE

Tessa and Davis met and fell in love, moved to the country, and started their own business all for one reason: trash.


Their first encounter was in New York while both studying environmental science at NYU. they had joined one of their college’s most obscure clubs - a recycling initiative with only four members (including the two of them). Their relationship blossomed while picking through their school’s recycling bins, trying to find a way to reduce their waste, and create a more efficient recycling system in their college community.


While at school, Davis approached the school’s administration, and crafted his own job title that the school ended up hiring him to do, which included waste characterization studies. He came up with the idea to design bins that informed users if they were placing the correct item in the correct receptacle. He convinced Tessa to join him in building a nonprofit together that focused on creating and distributing these bins. While they designed an app together that helped them get started on this journey, they soon realized they were in way over their heads. However, it was during this time, that the two of them spent a lot of time alone together, digging through trash, analyzing it, exploring their mutual passion for it, and for each other.


After they graduated, they continued working when they could with their school’s recycling program, but they both struggled to find the time between their two full time jobs. Tessa found work at an urban planning firm, and Davis worked for a solar company. However, they both felt like they were compromising on their ultimate dream to tackle the problem of waste. Eventually the project at NYU fizzled out, but their love for reducing and repurposing trash didn’t.


“The physical and financial health struggles were taking a toll. I was feeling stuck in my non-profit job, as there wasn’t a lot of upward mobility, and it was not the field I wanted to be working in. With all these stressors stacking up, we felt like we had the energy and inspiration to do something different. We felt that this was the time to be adventurous, to feel free and mobile.” Tessa

They found themselves burnt out on city life; the pollution, the sky-high rents, the lack of access to the outdoors, and having to do work that wasn't aligned with their passions and values. Every chance they got, they left the city for hiking, camping, farm stays, etc, but those were just band-aids on a much bigger problem. The stress from keeping up with the high cost of living started manifesting into obscure physical ailments and emotional exhaustion.


It all clicked for them when Davis’s mom sent them an article on his hometown containing survey results that most residents desired a composting infrastructure in their town. They decide they might as well leave the city while they were still young, and didn’t have any large burdens holding them back.


“We came out to Maine for a visit, and couldn’t help but notice how inexpensive the local real estate was… Everything seemed to line up, and we were becoming more and more excited by the idea of doing an independent project ourselves in our field of choice. We were also attracted to this sense of love for a place that people here in Maine have. In the city, people usually come from all over - and nobody feels a strong connection to place, which I feel is so valuable.” -Davis

Tessa and Davis moved to Maine soon after, and used the survey/article as the impotence to start Scrap Dogs - a county-wide compost pick up service, with their dog Rhubarb as their trusty mascot.

While the realities of starting and running a small business are much more complicated than they could have imagined, Tessa and Davis finally feel like they are able to make a constructive difference in their passion for waste reduction - more-so than they ever were while working 9-5s. While they currently work multiple jobs in addition to running their own business, they feel like they are actually able to make more of a concrete difference when it comes to waste reduction an environmental sustainability. Davis was also recently hired as the Sustainability Coordinator for his town, taking his work in the community’s environment to another level.


"Finances are still tough. Even though we left the high cost of living in the city, we also had to leave our full time jobs. We still work other part time jobs in addition to our business to make ends meet. Making the financial mindset shift was a big hurdle as well - going from working one full-time job, to learning to manage multiple streams of income was something we needed to get used to as well." -Tessa

Despite working multiple jobs, and having to juggle the time and commitment running a business requires, Tessa and Davis report that after moving, they felt much more capable of navigating the stressful moments of everyday life.


“I feel like I can breathe better. When I get stressed here, the way it affects my body is so different, that I feel I can handle it in a way that I could never do in New York. There is plenty of opportunity here, but the difference is you have to create it yourself. I love that here you can take your time with things, and feel as pushed or pressured to do so much. It’s also just stunningly beautiful here. There are lakes, the ocean, islands, beaches, mountains, and culture. I love being able to work outdoors. I love that I have the freedom on a gorgeous summer to just spontaneously decide to go swimming at the lake and just drink in the beauty of the surrounding mountains.” - Tessa


They also readily admit they wouldn’t have had the courage or support to start their own business from the city. It’s been heartening for them to live in a place where they know other business owners and local residents know them, and support their successes, but also that they were establishing a service their community desperately needed and desired.


“Moving to a small town, you need to work to build relationships, but once you do, those relationships are so much stronger, You can definitely lean on people a lot more in a small town for help and advice.” - Tessa

So many who decide to move to the country wait until they are a bit older, have their finances sorted out, or have a child before prioritizing a shift in lifestyle. Perhaps it is a fear of leaving the security net of a city, or the cultural pressure that promotes the idea that to be fulfilled professionally, artistically, personally, you have to live in an urban center. However, for those just starting out in their working life and careers, moving to the country can feel (or seem to others) like a decision to give up on your ambitions. However, that hardly has to be the case.


“As a person in your 20s just starting out your career, you have to be flexible, and be willing to role with the punches. What you do might not be exactly what you envisioned, especially at first. No matter what, the transition will be new and different, and you have to expect it to be difficult in the beginning. However, don’t be afraid to take time for yourself too. A typical experience here in Maine is to work 2 or 3 different jobs to make ends, so don’t feel deterred or base your decision to leave on whether you can find full time work right away. Don’t be afraid to learn to juggle a couple different skills, or learn new skills when you move. The gravity of the city often sucks a lot of young talent away from small towns, so there definitely can be lots hidden job opportunities. I don’t know a single employer around here that doesn’t have a hard time finding qualified candidates to work for them. As long as you work well, and meet new people, you can easily build a good reputation in a new place.” -Tessa

Tessa and Davis are currently working on expanding their customer base, and are hoping to see their business grow to encompass waste management on a larger scale - such as finding ways to turn different types of food waste into other products or as an alternative energy source. In an always eco-minded push, they are also thinking of ways in which they can also utilize their current customer base to incorporate delivery drop-offs, such as CSA shares as a part of their service.


While those who live rurally tend to be lovers and appreciators of the natural world, we sometimes have to grapple with the fact that it can often be more wasteful to live in the country. This can be of course mitigated by the magic of composting, but many people do not wish to spend time managing a backyard compost, or live in town, or simply don’t wish to start. Tessa and Davis have created a convenient and wonderful service that diverts tons of community waste each year from landfill, and returns the “product” back to the community as finished compost.


Thank you Tessa and Davis for sharing your story of leaving the city and pursuing your small business dreams. To learn more about Scrap Dogs you can visit their website or follow them on Instagram.

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