Tyler Frank started his curbside composting business, Garbage to Garden, with $300 and an old pickup truck.

During the very first month, it became obvious he had tapped into an unmet need. By simply signing up new customers at a card table he set up at his local farmers market, he was soon serving 174 southern Maine households.

Today, three years later, that customer base has grown to 4,000 homes and more than 100 commercial businesses in six communities.

Garbage to Garden wins the Source Good Neighbor Award because the company makes composting easy, using a model that is easy to replicate, and educates people about the importance of recycling food waste to keep it out of the waste stream.

“Food waste is 40 percent of what we throw away,” Frank said. “It’s the largest single component of municipal garbage. Not only does it affect our soil health, the long-term productivity of our soil is dependent on our ability to recycle the organic material back into the soil and not dead-end it in a landfill” or burn it in an incinerator.

Nancy Strojny, chair of the Portland chapter of SCORE, which gave Garbage to Garden its Outstanding Small Green Business award last year, said Frank is “the real deal.” She said not only did he have the right idea at the right time, “he’s just made it cost-effective and convenient for all of us to do the right thing.”

What especially impressed the judges was the company’s volunteer program that connects its clients to their communities in larger ways. Consumers who cannot afford the $14 per month fee can get the composting service for free if they volunteer at a local nonprofit or at Garbage to Garden itself.

Frank said more than 100 people take advantage of the opportunity to volunteer every month.

One nomination noted that although Garbage to Garden receives no direct payment when a member volunteers instead of paying the monthly fee, the company is “clearly helping to support local charities and encouraging Mainers to connect with organizations that are making Maine a better place for all of us.”

Frank believes that composting will be the next big thing in recycling, and is expanding his company accordingly.

He just started offering the service in Brunswick and hopes to add three more Maine towns later this year.

“We’re on a mission to capture 25 percent of the food waste in the communities we serve,” Frank said. “Between residential and commercial, we’re right at 15 percent in Portland.”

He and his staff are also exploring the creation of town-wide composting programs in Maine. And he says communities in Vermont (where household composting will be required by 2020), Massachusetts and other parts of Maine have all shown an interest in starting their own programs through franchising or licensing agreements with Garbage to Garden.

Garbage to Garden is also now in six public school districts, as well as some private schools and colleges.

Josh Olins, a first-grade teacher at Falmouth Elementary School, had tried to start a composting program at the school with no luck – until he heard about Garbage to Garden.

With their help, “it’s been very, very successful, to the point that I was giving tours weekly to teachers and parents from other school districts,” Olins said.

Falmouth Elementary used to throw away eight large trash bags of food waste from the cafeteria alone each day. Now it throws away one.

Olins is now moving the program into the middle school with the help of elementary school “ambassadors,” and he has helped other schools set up similar programs. The compost that is returned to the school goes into its school gardens.

“I think the school angle is important because now you’re teaching another generation that (composting) is important,” Strojny said.