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Sponsor Spotlight- September 2019 Vermont Compost Company

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2019 September Issue Newsletter

By Darby Weaver

Editor’s note: Vermont Compost Company has been one of our longest-term sponsors at NOFA/Mass, contributing annually to the organization and participating in the yearly Tri-State Bulk Order as a supplier.  We are grateful for the support of sponsors like Vermont Compost Company who believe in investing in education and advocacy for organic agriculture in Massachusetts and beyond.

As the changing seasons conduct the activity of growers across the United States, the low hum of machines running on biofuel, the calls and cackles of chickens, and the occasional donkey song can be heard emanating from the south facing hillsides of Vermont Compost Company in Montpelier, Vermont.  Karl Hammer started operations on this land in the capital city after decades spent in the fields, learning from elders and landcrafters, using their traditional wisdoms to fuel new innovations.

Chickens take part in the composting processKarl began farming full time in his youth, and his passion for connecting culture back to its roots in the soil has aged into a dedicated team of people running a company focused on making products aimed to support the efforts of professional growers.  Everything from material sourcing to daily operations have been refined down to a sort of alchemy where science, lab testing, customer feedback, and intuition are combined to create soil media that is reliable, productive, and ethically produced.

Today, Vermont Compost provides compost and potting mixes to over 600 growers.  The soil products are made from materials that are carefully sourced and intentionally managed.  Strict recipes and procedures are followed ensuring that each batch helps revitalize soil ecologies and germinate seeds consistently.  When running a farm or nursery business, it is essential to begin with vigorous and robust plant starts. The mission of Vermont Compost is to provide growing media that nurtures plants to reach their highest potential.  Whether container gardening, seeding into transplant trays, or making soil blocks, there is a Vermont Compost product that has been carefully crafted to anticipate the needs of the plants and provide for their development along the way. 

Vermont Compost partners with local dairy farmers, horse stables, tree services, sawmills, restaurants, food markets, citizens, and trusted nutrient distributors to ensure the highest quality inputs are acquired to produce potting soils and composts. Vermont Compost Company products have all been approved for use in Certified Organic Production by the Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF), the certification branch of NOFA-VT.  The composting process itself meets the standard requirements of the National Organic Program (NOP) and maintains the appropriate temperatures for the mandated duration necessary for the elimination of pathogens, weed seeds, and contaminants. 

Vermont Compost’s Manure Compost is managed to ensure the most life-giving qualities with a precise focus on pH, soil biology, mineralization, porosity, electrical conductivity, moisture, and shelf life, among others.  Biodynamic Preparations are added to provide a guiding force for the organizing potential of the subtle energies at work within and around the windrows throughout the aging process. 

Vermont Compost Company from aboveThe recipes used to make Fort Vee, Fort Light, Compost Plus, Jolly Rodger, and the Perennial Blend have been carefully evolved over the years to create soil that respects the capabilities of the most effective naturally occurring soils.  This gives the plants the necessary inclination towards participating in the living ecology that awaits them in the fields.  Starting with well-made mature compost as the all-important foundation for each media, the additional amendments added have been carefully selected to mimic naturally occurring phenomena present in a healthy soil system. 

With basalt, granite, and calcium carbonate powders added for mineralization and root division, plants are introduced to the nutrients and biological communities that build soil from the breakdown of rocks.  Ingredients like blood meal, steamed bone meal, and kelp all introduce soluble nutrients and micronutrients that help make plants productive and reduce growth irregularities associated with deficiencies.  Honoring the profoundly elaborate exchanges that develop healthy soil, potting mixes are designed to make nutrients available to plants gradually over time to support their overall performance.

 

At the core of operations at Vermont Compost is the lab.  Materials that make their way to the farm like peat moss and coconut coir are tested by lab scientist, Rocio Clark, upon arrival to ensure that the quality of the product meets the desired quality of the potting mix to be produced.  Sampling and measuring raw materials helps to determine original pH, moisture and conductivity, and also alerts staff to any contaminants or pathogens before these materials are added to the composting system.  The compost and soil media are also tested throughout their aging and blending processes to ensure that the products are stable and developing appropriately.

 

All of this information is recorded and tracked- an important part of meeting the requirements set out by the National Organic Program. This traceability also enables staff at Vermont Compost to help customers troubleshoot potential issues.   Finally, finished products are tested with plant trials where diverse cultivars are grown utilizing each batch of media to pinpoint any nutrient deficiencies, issues with pH, or other irregularities that could present problems to growers.

 

One of the most exciting aspects of Vermont Compost is the community of producers that, through purchasing the potting mixes and compost, provide the feedback and hands on trialing that continues to evolve the product into an even better media.  Vermont Compost offers comprehensive support for individuals who experience any difficulty with products and through extensive trials, lab testing, and record keeping, a batch can be located and other growers who purchased from the same stock can be contacted to verify potential issues.  This quality assurance service not only ensures that customers overcome problems, it also serves as a system of checks and balances that keeps the operations and products of Vermont Compost at their best.

 

Founder and president, Karl Hammer says “We have the benefit of having this huge, sharp-eyed, test bench of the community of growers that use our products.  On April Fool’s Day, something pushing 100 acres of potting soil is laid out an inch deep in 600 greenhouses with people staring at it. If people should start having trouble, we can determine what batch they purchased, call up the growers who have purchased the same batch, and use them as leading indicators of issues within the mix.  It feels almost as if we are all standing out in the same field.”  It is this sense of community shared with growers that motivates Vermont Compost Company to provide products and services that promote success within the challenging marketplace of food production.

 

It is for a similar reason that Vermont Compost supports the efforts of NOFA/Mass in sharing awareness and resources to farmers and consumers alike interested in participating in the production and distribution of organically grown foods.  It is this sense of community shared with growers that motivates Vermont Compost Company to provide products and services that promote success within the challenging marketplace of food production. Through the Organic Food Guide, the Summer and Winter Conferences, the endless educational opportunities and seminars, and from their extensive policy work, NOFA/Mass is providing layers of outreach and programming that truly empowers individuals to be the change they wish to see in the world.

           

Spring may seem pretty far away as the 2019 Summer growing season begins to come to an end, but Vermont Compost invites growers at this time to consider participating in their Fall pre-buy program.  Much like a CSA, this enables Vermont Compost to pay staff a livable, year-round wage and also allows them to pass discounts on to the production greenhouses and farms that buy the products in bulk and keep them in business.  It is the growers that make the work at Vermont Compost possible and it is the incredible efforts of farmers across the United States and beyond that inspire them to make potting soils and composts that truly work.  For more information about Vermont Compost products, practices, and the Fall pre-buy program, visit: www.vermontcompost.com.           

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