Compost brings varied benefits
JOHN BUCHANANEnvironmental responsibility is increasingly important to farming. Since 2005, Mother's Organics has capitalized on that reality by providing high-quality humus, or compost, to commercial growers and gardeners.
Published: June 27, 2012
Published: June 27, 2012
"Traditionally, and especially in Florida, commercial growers have used peat-based products, mainly because of the peat mines we have here," said Nathan Wax, manager of the Hillsborough County-based company and son of founder Herb Wax. "It's a limited resource that is renewable, but it takes millions of years to make more. So it's not very sustainable. Therefore, it's gotten harder and harder to get permits to open peat mines, because it's known to be detrimental to the environment."
As a practical matter, compost has also proven to be superior to peat because it's alive. "It's full of bacteria and fungus," Wax explained. "Particularly in Florida, because we have soil that is very sandy, that's an important benefit because it gets organic matter back into the soil. That means growers use less water and less fertilizer, which is another way of helping the environment."
Rick Martinez, founder and owner of Sweetwater Organic Community Farm in Tampa, founded in 1993 as Florida's first community-supported agriculture operation selling directly to retail consumers, has been a Mother's Organics customer for several years.
"They operate a state-of-the-art facility that is the only one of its type I know of in Florida," said Martinez, who grows 50 varieties of organic vegetables on 6 acres and serves 300 customers within a 30-mile radius. "They provide premium compost material. We use it to inoculate the soil and increase organic matter with micro-biological activity, which is a key to organic farming. And Mother's Organics products have provided us with an easy way to do both of those things at one time."
Sweetwater made its first large-scale purchase from Mother's Organics when it launched a 4-acre satellite farm last year in collaboration with The Children's Home for abused children in Tampa.
"It has very sandy soil," Martinez said. "So we used Mother's Organics products to improve its biological activity."
Mother's Organics sells several standard blends of compost.
One is garden soil intended for raised bed vegetable gardens. "It's rich in nutrients and ready to plant," Wax said.
Another option is a potting soil blend of humus, hard wood fines and aged pine bark fines. "That's more for nurseries that grow in pots and containers," Wax said. "It's screened, well grained and highly absorbent. It's used primarily by nursery customers."
Ancillary services provided by the company include grapple truck pick-up, pick-up and removal of debris, mulch installation, soil installation, bioseeding and top dressing.
The company also markets Filtrexx GardenSoxx, an organic landscape and gardening system that uses compost held inside a mesh tube to provide better growing conditions for vegetables plants.
"It allows commercial-scale growing to be done anywhere," Wax said. "You're not growing in the ground. You're growing right in the sock."
Filtrexx systems have been used in Tampa and other cities to fuel the "urban farming" movement that sells directly to local retail consumers and restaurants.
For example, Wax said, a Tampa real estate developer recently converted an undeveloped parcel of downtown land to farm lettuce and vegetables for sale to local customers.
"That's a real trend," Wax said. "I see a lot of growers now at local farmer's markets that have viable commercial businesses on less than an acre. It's all organic and they're growing crops that have good retail margins like strawberries, blueberries and salad greens."
Until now, a significant portion of Mother's Organics business has been the sale of compost to branded commercial packagers such as Old Castle and Scotts. Now, however, Wax wants to divert that production to direct sales to commercial farmers and growers.
The company also wants to take in more kinds of feed stocks for conversion to compost.
"That means reducing the waste stream of materials that go to landfills," Wax said. "By diverting organic materials from landfills, greenhouse gases in the form of methane are reduced, and that's another form of environmental responsibility. One hundred percent of everything we take in is converted to compost or mulch, so we have no waste stream."
Wax is particularly interested in food waste and manures.
"What we're doing is being done all over the world," he said. "And it has been done all over the world for a long time."