A Boy, A Bike and A Business

TRAVERSE CITY – Carter Schmidt's business sense belies his age – except when he shows off the toy figurines that the budding entrepreneur buys with some of his earnings.

Schmidt is eight years old, a third grader at Eastern Elementary, and has just celebrated the one-year anniversary of Carter's Compost – a "bike-powered, kid-driven kitchen scrap picker-upper service," he says with a grin.

He's tough to miss on his bike and trailer contraption, hauling five-gallon buckets full of food waste. Collecting kitchen scraps from homes and businesses around town, Schmidt has learned a few things about running a business.

At times it is laborious – hauling 150 pounds along snow-covered sidewalks or on 90-degree days. And at times, he doesn't really feel like doing it.

But the one perk that keeps him going? The prospect of cold, hard cash.

For five dollars a month, Carter hauls away buckets full of banana peels, coffee grounds, and pistachio shells each week from 65 commercial and residential customers. Every few months he delivers a bucket filled to the brim with compost.

Deciding what to haul away is simple.

"If it grows, it goes," he said.

The idea sprung from Carter's green-thumbed dad, Ty Schmidt. Always looking for more compost for his garden, he had heard about small-scale compost service operations in other cities and thought, why not here?

As for Carter, he saw dollar signs in that rich black dirt.

"I've saved quite a bit so far," he said.

For every five dollars Carter collects, he puts three in the bank, keeps one to spend however he wants and one goes back into the business. He's currently saving for a new winter bike for better power through the snow and ice.

He has a handful of sponsors who have helped his business, including Grand Traverse Pie, which supplied him with most of his buckets and lids and Einstein Cycle, which donated the trailer that he hauls those buckets on.

But he and his team (aka mom and dad) are now busy finalizing an official sponsorship plan to help with the rising costs of the business while maintaining the low cost of his service.

Most of Carter's 65 customers are residential pick-ups or drop-offs (for people who live outside his territory). His business customers include Brew, SEEDS, Tracy Ruegsegger, DDS, Cuppa Joe and the Traverse Area District Library.

The young entrepreneur is also learning the art of a good trade. Brew compensates him with free beverage and food after his pick-up.

"Sometimes that hot chocolate was the only thing that got him out there this winter," Ty Schmidt said.

Since its successful launch, Carter's Compost is now experiencing growing pains.

"Right now our number one obstacle is finding space," said Ty Schmidt.

In the yard of their Washington Street home, Carter has seven kitchen scrap piles, one leaf pile and a few chicken helpers.

"My mom says 'no more piles'," said Carter.

To help, Carter's Compost started a "pile sharing" program – neighbors who are willing to give up some of their backyard space to create compost.

Carter is also on the lookout for a few good workers: kids like himself who are interested in running a business in their own neighborhood and enjoying the fruits of their labor.

These wouldn't be franchises. The kids would be responsible for all the equipment, the pile maintenance and also would keep all their hard-earned money.

"They have to be responsible," said Carter, "and willing to do the job."