Today’s post is a first for Mid-Atlantic Gardening. Justen Garrity from Veteran Compost has agreed to be interviewed about his composting business. It is based in Maryland and provides a wonderful resource for veterans and gardeners alike. Veteran Compost’s tagline is “From Combat to Compost”…how awesome is that! Let’s learn more about Veteran Compost, shall we?
Q. What is the mission of your business?
A. Veteran Compost is a veteran-owned business focused on turning organic waste into high quality soil amendments, and hiring military veterans to staff our ranks.
Q. Who do you see as your ideal customer?
A. We work with two main groups of customers: commercial foodservice operations and compost users. All of our food waste comes from restaurants, schools, hospitals and hotels around the Baltimore Metro Area. We are always recruiting and adding new food waste customers. It’s amazing the amount of material that we collect, tons of food waste that would otherwise go to the landfill or incinerator. The other side of our business is compost sales. We produce compost, vermicompost, compost worms, and compost teabags. We sell directly to farmers, landscapers, and homeowners. Our products are available bagged or in bulk. Our customers tend to be people who understand the value of improving their soil and the benefits of compost.
Q. How does your compost differ from what’s available in big box stores?
A. Our compost is an all-natural, locally made product that is sourced from recycled material. We also do not use any yard waste. This has become a big deal recently, since herbicides like Imprelis and Milestone (which are used on grass) can end up in yard waste compost facilities and contaminate the finished compost. We test all of our products in the greenhouse and in the laboratory. Quality is extremely important to us. You can see pictures of our process on our website and where our compost comes from. I don’t know that the big brands can claim that.
Q. How is your compost made?
A. Everyday we collect tons of food waste from local customers. That food waste is brought back to our farm in Aberdeen, MD and mixed with wood chips. It is placed in large piles that have perforated pipes underneath. Those pipes are tied into electric fans which are controlled by timers. By blowing air into the pile we are able to keep the material aerobic and compost it very rapidly. We constantly check the temperature and moisture levels within the piles, and adjust our airflow as needed. We compost our material at 140ºF initially in order to destroy any potential pathogens. After that, we work the material through several temperature ranges. At different temperatures, different microbes are active. So, by composting at different temperature ranges, we can coax out more microbes and create a better compost. We screen our compost to 3/8” or 1/2” and cure it before it is ready for sale. We go from raw material to finished compost in 90 days. This is without any odors or run-off and with minimal moving of the material so there is a lower carbon footprint.
Q. Describe your customers and the goods that they purchase. Do they pickup or do you deliver?
A. We offer pick-up on the farm of bagged or bulk compost and can also deliver material. While farmers and landscapers make up part of our customer base, our largest group is the homeowner or gardener. So, we are more than happy to arrange small orders and give soil and compost advice. We also have several pick-up locations for bagged products, and thanks to the internet, we now ship compost worms and vermicompost throughout the United States. It is unbelievable the places that our worms have gone in the past two years.
Q. How can my readers become more involved with what you are doing?
A. Feel free to check out our website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. We are always adding information on new food waste customers, farm happenings, and general soil and garden information. Picking up at the farm is a great chance to look around and see what is going on. If you don’t live near Aberdeen, MD you can use our pickup locations in Media, PA; Columbia, MD; and Annapolis, MD or we can mail you compost worms, vermicompost, and compost tea bags. Compost worms do surprisingly well being shipped via Priority Mail!
Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about your business?
A. I guess I should explain a little bit about our worm compost operation. We gutted our horse barn a few years ago and filled it with long continuous flow worm bins. Periodically we feed our worms some of our finished compost. Since compost worms tend to live near the surface, they move upwards to the new material. Meanwhile, we run a bar along the bottom of the bin, which drops finished vermicompost onto tarps. This vermicompost is screened to ¼” and is awesome for starting seeds, boosting houseplants, or making compost tea. The screening process also separates the compost worms out. Red Wigglers (compost worms) are great in a worm bin or a backyard compost pile.
Wow, what a great business model Justen is using for his business. He’s helping gardeners, commercial landscapers, farmers, foodservice companies, veterans and the environment. That’s a green business that is really making a difference. If you live in the Maryland area, stop by and see Justen and the folks at Veteran Compost. If you’re further away, consider ordering some of his vermicompost, compost worms or compost tea bags. Your plants will thank you for it! Let me know if you’ve used any of Veteran Compost’s products by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy gardening!