I posted about Sow True Seed a couple weeks ago to show where I got seeds. This post is about where I got awesome soil this year — from some great folks too!
One of the best things I did to increase my food growing potential was fill my raised beds with good soil. Last March, I had a truckload of a compost mix delivered from a local mulch yard. I needed more to fill the two new raised beds my brother and I built last week.
A few weeks ago I found out that my friend Maggie and her husband Jeff were just starting a compost company. (She’s also the mom of my older boy’s good buddy, and she’s also one of their preschool teachers). They already own and operate a landscaping company, and have been wanting to add a composting business to what they’ve got going on.
Through mutual friends, they met Andrew Huske, who’d started his own “compost production and waste stream diversion” company, Waste Stream Innovations, in Mills River (about 20 minutes south of Asheville), and Maggie and Jeff have partnered with him. Andrew is on the production end, and Maggie and Jeff are now doing the “packaging” and marketing of the final product — a fine compost blend, perfect for gardening. Maggie and Jeff’s part of the operation is French Broad Organics Recycling.
I wanted to check out what they were up to, and Maggie said to come on out to the farm with the boys (she told me there were tractors and giant dirt piles there — what a perfect field trip for two little fellas — plus, her boy was there so that was sure to make it a good time!)
When we first drove up, this is what we saw, and my boys immediately forgot about using “inside voices” while I was driving — they were whoopin’ and hollerin’ seeing the piles and tractors:
Maggie introduced me to Andrew, and they started me on a tour while Andrew explained to me how he got all this started. A few years ago while he was working as a building contractor, he was at the county landfill dumping some construction materials when he noticed a truck from a large greenhouse company dumping their discards from their growing operations.
The load included plastic pots for plants and also a huge amount of potting medium for growing. At the time, Andrew thought that there must be some way to re-use that material, especially since the company it was coming from was huge (Van Wingerden Greenhouses — one of the top greenhouse growers in the country) and that there was probably lots more where that came from headed to the landfill.
Well, when the economic climate turned sour for building contractors — a year or so after Andrew was at the landfill — his mental wheels started turning. Soon he was in contact with Van Wingerden telling them about an idea he had to divert their waste from the landfill. This would help them, as he estimates they were having to pay landfill fees for around 1200 tons of greenhouse “waste” annually. It would help him, as he needed work as building contracts were drying up. Van Wingerden thought it was a great idea, so Waste Stream Innovations got started.
Please excuse my lack of technical knowledge here, but I’ll try my best: Andrew explained to me that they put the pots/potting medium mixture in a “tumbler” machine that separates the plastic from the dirt. The plastic goes into a pile as seen above, and that gets recycled (one of its reincarnations is plastic pallets). There are several different kinds of plastics he’s getting from Van Wingerden (and different ways they get recycled, and that’s about as far as I can explain) — but basically, they’re getting recycled and staying out of the landfill.
But….away from plastic and on to making compost. After the potting mix is separated out, it gets mixed in with cow manure, mulch and leaves. The mulch and leaves come from a few local tree companies who are happy to have a place to discard their brush from jobs.
They also come from the Henderson County brush/leaf collection. There is also a huge mountain of wooden pallets from several different manufacturing companies that get ground down to add to the mulch mixture.
The “recipe” is” 2 parts growing mix (from Van Wingerden), 1 part cow manure, 1 part mulch and 1 part leaves. (They’re testing composting the food leftovers from a couple local restaurants — which I think is a great idea as I can only imagine how much food goes into landfills…they’re working on it and it may soon become a bigger part of their mix.)
Now, up to this point on the tour, the boys were having a good time checking everything out. Then we got to the wind rows, where the compost sits and decomposes and becomes that dark rich soil.
There’s another tractor here with an attachment specifically for turning the rows. Not only did the boys get to get up in the cab, but Andrew got it started and ran it down one row to show us how it worked. These guys loved it!
There are regulations set by the state as to how long the mixture has to “cook”, and what temperatures it must reach in order to be ready for sale. Andrew gave me an example: wind rows have to be turned 5 times in 15 days and have to get above 131 degrees. Once it’s fully “cooked” and then cooled down, the compost is ready to go.
When the compost is ready, a big loader scoops it into the screener that separates out the big pieces that haven’t fully broken down (they get put back into the mix). Now that was a fun pile to jump on/in:
After being screened, the compost is ready for delivery.
French Broad Organics Recycling (Maggie and Jeff) are now delivering it in bulk, or people can go to the farm and get it in their own trucks. They’ve also sold some in 5-gallon buckets to local garden centers (Thyme in the Garden, Reems Creek Nursery, Candler Feed & Seed).
Maggie told me their biggest customer is a vermiculture operation in Travelers Rest, SC. I just checked out their website, so cool: Appalachian Organics.
Here’s Maggie’s mom and dad helping load buckets to get ready for the Organic Growers School:
I bought 5.25 cubic yards of their compost, and Maggie’s husband Jeff delivered it to our house after we got home. Jeff, a dad to 2 boys too, knows they love to do stuff like this:
As soon as this rain/snow clears (oh, March), I’ll be out starting to get this into the new raised beds.
Thanks for a great visit y’all!!