BioCycle Magazine

Certified Organic Farm Relies on Compost


Courtesy of Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

Located 50 miles northwest of Dayton, Ohio, the owners of Fresh Aire Farms grow crops on over 250 acres of farmland, relying on high quality compost as a soil conditioner and nutrient amendment. Dan and Michelle Young started composting seven years ago to reduce the amount of chemical inputs they had to buy.

“We are a certified organic farm incorporating sound cropping principles,” says Dan Young. “We use a four-year crop rotation, cover crops, green manures, high quality compost, and no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.” The Youngs produce food grade corn, edible beans, small grains, pasture, hay and vegetables. Next year, more acres will be devoted to growing specialty organic vegetables.

The composting operation at Fresh Aire Farms originally began with a pitchfork on a one-fifth-acre site, then shifted to use of a front-end loader to windrow materials before a compost turner was purchased. Between 2,000 and 3,000 cubic yards (cy) of feedstocks are processed annually — cattle manure, horse manure, poultry litter, corncobs, spent hay, straw and woody materials. The Youngs also accept leaves from local villages for a tip fee. “I’ve used articles in BioCycle to help explain to village officials the advantages of urban-farm partnerships for reducing disposal costs and recycling nutrients,” adds Young.

Windrows are formed on a 1.5 acre graded site. Piles are turned with a tractor-pulled compost turner that has a capacity of 1,200 cubic yards per hour. Each windrow is covered with a fleece blanket to prevent formation of leachate and to maintain proper moisture levels. The result is a mature, stable compost is produced in three to four months.

“Our current site is 100 feet away from our residence,” Young points out. “Odors and flies are kept to a minimum.
 We are expanding our compost facility to a three-acre, all weather site on the farm, which will be an Ohio EPA approved class III facility accepting source separated yard trimmings and animal residuals. We will continue to produce high quality compost and landscape mulch.”

Utilization Methods

To fulfill the soil building and crop nutrient needs of his certified organic farm, Young estimates that about 70 percent of the finished compost is applied to his own land. His off-farm markets — primarily local homeowners — have been steadily growing. By November, 1999, the Youngs were sold out for springtime, 2000, which is the reason for doubling production with the expanded compost site.

Customers pay $45/cubic yard plus delivery for compost that is usually applied in 2,000-lb. recycled bags. A $5 credit on future purchases is given for bag return. Bulk sales of compost — mostly to organic and conventional growers and greenhouses — are priced at $32/cy for 20 or more cy, and $40/cy if less than 20/cy.

Profits from the composting operation have become increasingly significant to operations at Fresh Aire Farms. Michelle Young estimates that 25 percent of their total revenues now come from composting and that the percentage is growing. They are confident that they’ll be getting sizable amounts of feedstocks to process into marketable compost from regional food processors. “We are getting more calls from generators — some from as far away as 100 miles — who are looking for places to accept their organic residuals,” notes Young.

Dan and Michelle Young are proud of their family-run composting operation, which includes the part-time work of their fathers (both retired now). They also see the economic value in having the extra income stream from compost sales and on-farm utilization. “Diversification into composting helped significantly this year because of the drought this summer,” he sums up. By Jerome Goldstein.

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