Wednesday, February 21, 2024

USDA Awards the Virginia Zoo funds to Acquire ‘Big Hanna’

An artist rendering of “Big Hanna” (Virginia Zoo)

NORFOLK — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has selected the Virginia Zoo to receive funds to launch a state-of-the-art composting project benefiting the zoo and Norfolk community.

The zoo is one of the recipients across the country awarded funding in the USDA’s Composting and Food Waste Reduction Program. Funded by the American Rescue Plan Act and a collaboration between the USDA’s Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, the zoo will be using the awarded funding to purchase the key composting equipment, a Big Hanna in-vessel composter unit.

“This initiative is an advanced step for the zoo and its partners to provide a green service that benefits our entire community in unexpected ways and provides a physical site to learn about the process of composting,” Greg Bockheim, Executive Director of the Virginia Zoo, said. “Additionally, it brings a large piece of machinery to zoo grounds that will be churning a smelly and rotten list of food waste and organic matter, turning it into something fun and useful, and what kids won’t love that?!”

The Virginia Zoo is home to over 700 animals and sees nearly 400,000 guests annually, resulting in a significant amount of food and organic waste that is currently disposed to landfills. To align with the Virginia Zoo’s mission of engaging the community to take action to save the world’s wildlife and their ecosystems, the project, dubbed “Greening World,” will drastically eliminate food and organic waste by converting it to useful compost while actively engaging visitors in the importance of environmental and sustainable choices.

The Virginia Zoo is partnering with the Elizabeth River Project, the Virginia Master Gardeners Association, and the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, which will join either to receive compost to enhance gardens and plant growth or recycle their perishable food waste.

The zoo’s nonprofit organization, the Virginia Zoological Society,is looking to the community to help raise an additional $107,800 to cover utility, installation and implementation costs for the composter element of the Greening World project. Another $150,000 will be required to update zoo greenhouses and complete the initiative.

“Donating is a fantastic way for local residents to take ownership in an initiative that will benefit them and their neighbors in the long run by providing resources to restore and repair coastal waterways, reduce greenhouse gas and carbon emissions and beautify the area with gardens. An investment in the Greening World project can be viewed as an investment in a healthier Hampton Roads,” shared Christabelle Fernandez, Director of Development.

Those interested in supporting the Greening World project can make a gift at

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