Compost is changing the attitude toward waste
by Tracy S. Petersen, freelance associate
When Stacie Johnson went into the composting business, she thought her days would be filled with converting manure to a rich organic compound and selling it to customers. She didnt anticipate that shed fill much of her time with educational activities such as workshops, interviews, and answers to calls about making compost.
Im actually representing a fundamental change, said the Cedar Rapids woman, who calls her business Organic Matters. The change Stacie strives to make is helping people see manure as a nutrient and soil builder, and not strictly as fertilizer.
Among livestock producers, Stacie talks about manure as a resource. She equates it to a seed or a calf that must be nurtured to produce a valuable end product. To her customers, she speaks about the multiple benefits of compost and organic matter.
The compost Stacie creates is generated from a stable with 47 horses. Each year the stable provides 4,000 to 5,000 cubic yards of manure mixed with sawdust shavings. To reduce the woodiness of the compost, Stacie mixes the horse manure with manure from a nearby dairy. She has a ready supplythe dairy produces 3,000 pounds of manure each day.
Stacie uses three manure management methods. In the first, she composts the horse manure with a static pile for 12 to 18 months. It is then sold as a soil builder.
In the second method, Stacie mixes fresh horse manure with dairy manure and introduces it to an in-vessel digester The manure mixture remains in the digester for 4 days, where the microbial activity heats the material to 150oF.
Stacies third method, vermiculture, involves placing the compost in worm beds700 pounds of worms (1,000 worms per pound). The result is a rich organic compound good for everything from boosting tomatoes and starting seeds to improving lawns and agricultural fields. The castings are too expensive to be applied to agricultural fields.
The compost particularly benefits agricultural producers by enriching the land. Manure that is being composted has less odor than that which is stored, and has an earthy odor when it is applied to the land. It decreases pollution, reduces weed seeds (they are killed in the composting process), and improves the soils ability to hold water in drought or wet periods.
This is a great option for agricultural producers, Johnson said. If they dont take the compost to the field they can sell it. Finished compost has a current market value of $10 to $500 per yard, depending on the process and packaging.
Stacie sells her compost in increments from a bucket to semi-loads. The smallest increments of worm castings, which she calls Heavenly Humus, are sold as Buckets of Blessings for Plants and Plant Lovers. These are available at her small retail shop and in some garden centers in central and eastern Iowa.
Stacie also sells bulk compost from her facility at Four Oaks Farm and Stable in Robins. Many of her customers are homeowners, who purchase 2 to 6 cubic yards of compost at a time. Landscapers purchase 10 times that much and haul theirs away by the semi truck.
Stacie, who calls herself an entre-manure, started her business in September 1999. With a solid product in place, she is now concentrating on market development. Im attempting to educate a whole industry, so more people will understand this, she said. And shes optimistic. I really see the potential for transforming a rural surplus, manure, into a value-added product. Im an environmentalist at heart, but I know it has to make economic sense. What Im trying to do is find the balance.
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Page last updated October 5, 2004
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