Provided by: Vermeer Corporation, Pella, Iowa
With landfills across the United States banning yard waste dumping and citizens wanting to be more environmentally responsible, a new market emerged — composting. It’s a market that has been around for a long time but is finally coming into its own as more people begin to understand the benefits of reusing the organic waste that was once thought useless.
Leading the way in the emerging composting market are tree care and recycling contractors who have committed themselves to expanding their operations to give their customers more. For these organizations, breaking into the composting market has led to substantial growth through hard work, education and adding the right equipment to produce high-quality materials.
Seeing growth in the emerging composting market in the Midwest are two organizations based in Illinois. While neither company started in the composting market, both have experienced success.
From nursery to composting
First up is Garden Prairie, IL based Garden Prairie Organics (GPO), a family business that was founded 2009. The company started off using compost in its tree nursery, Garden Prairie Nursery, in 2007. Seeing the benefits of compost at its nursery, the company decided to begin processing compost for themselves and the tree care customers they work with.
According to Mike Dimucci, manager of GPO, the Midwest compost market is still in the beginning stages. “There are still some stigmas out there about composting — a lot of customers still think it smells because they used it 15 years ago, and they got a bad batch or used something that was not completely processed,” he explained. “Between when the yard waste ban in landfills took effect in the 1990’s to now, the advances in research and processing of compost has come really far. Compost, as long as it’s been processed properly, is a viable alternative for waste disposal and organic material use.”
GPO has been working with customers in the area to help them understand what compost is and how to use it. “Many customers come into GPO thinking they need topsoil,” says Dimucci. “When we ask them what they are using it for, they often say they are seeding and need it to cover the seeds. What they really need is compost.”
GPO employs a multi-step, closely monitored composting process with measured inputs of water, air, carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials. The organic decomposition process is aided by grinding plant matter, adding water when needed and ensuring proper aeration by regularly turning the mixture.
GPO receives organic materials for composting in many shapes and sizes. According to Dimucci, they operate a Vermeer® TG7000 tub grinder, a Vermeer CT718 compost turner and two Vermeer trommel screens — a 521 unit and a 626 model to handle all the material.
“We use our Vermeer tub grinder to process material as it comes into our facility,” Dimucci said. “We then mix it the way we want it, put it out in the windrows and take the temperature, as well as check the oxygen and moisture levels. Then we run our CT718 compost turner through it and process it up. Once it’s finished material, we’ll cure it, and then run it through one of our two screeners, either it’s our 626 or our 521 trommel screen, and finish with a premium compost.”
The type and size of the finished product depends on GPO’s customer needs. For example, the compost a golf course needs is finer, a landscape contractor needs a medium product, and the material can be coarser for agricultural uses.
Giving customers more
Down the road, in Elgin, IL another company found that expanding its operations into compost and mulch has led to long-term success.
Midwest Compost, LLC started in 2000 when Charlie Murphy opened a yard waste transfer station in West Chicago, IL. Midwest Compost’s primary business back then was collecting the waste of others. Over the years, Charlie grew the business to a point where a second transfer station was needed, so he enlisted the help of his son Pat. The two of them have since opened a second facility in the nearby city of Elgin.
The father and son team saw many landscapers in those early years dropping off yard waste and leaving with empty trucks. That single observation would eventually lead to what Midwest Compost is today; a manufacturer of mulch and compost that sells and distributes landscaping material to professional contractors, as well as homeowners around the greater Chicago area.
At first, Midwest Compost relied on other manufacturers to bring in materials to their facilities, and then they would sell it to the landscapers who were dumping off yard debris. “The idea was to help our customers be more efficient with their time,” explains Pat Murphy, operations manager for Midwest Compost. “It didn’t take long for us to determine that selling mulch and compost would be a good idea for our businesses.”
The Murphys decided that it didn’t make sense to be relying on others to supply them with the material when they had access to raw materials needed to produce their products. They turned to their local Vermeer dealer to look at their options for grinding their own material.
“When we started recycling our wood waste, we would rent a tub grinder from Vermeer Midwest for a few days at a time,” explains Murphy. “That option worked well for a while, but we needed to increase the amount of grinding we were doing to keep up with demand, which is why we subcontracted the work out to another company that owned a Vermeer TG9000 tub grinder. We eventually grew the business to a point where it made more sense for us to purchase our own machine. And in 2010, we bought our own Vermeer TG7000 tub grinder.”
Now, during the peak working season, the company employees up to 12 people to manufacture mulch and compost.
A common partner
For anyone getting started in the composting industry, there is a lot to learn. GPO and Midwest Compost have both depended on the expertise provided by the Recycling and Forestry Specialist at Vermeer Midwest to help their businesses expand into the compost market.
According to Murphy, he’s done his research and found that Vermeer manufactures quality machines that last. “In addition to the equipment, I have valued the relationship we’ve established with the team at Vermeer Midwest over the years,” he explains. “Those guys bent over backward making sure we have what we need, when we need it. They also went the extra mile to come out and make sure my guys were trained on how to use the tub grinder. That makes a big difference.”
Investing in compost
With a larger focus on “going green” and being “eco-friendly,” many companies like GPO and Midwest Composting are viewing organic waste in a new way. As an emerging market, there are still tremendous opportunities for organizations looking to expand their business and willing to invest.