Celebrating 25 Years
FILE: SCAN OF THE ARTICLE AS PUBLISHED
- (Click here if you need a PDF
- Sonoma Compost: Celebrating 25
- by Patricia Dines
- Sonoma-Marin Farm News, Feb. 2010
- (c) Patricia Dines, 2010. All rights reserved.
- Overlooking the expansive dairylands of Petaluma, Will Bakx,
co-owner of Sonoma Compost Company (SCC), ponders the long rows of
steaming compost and says, "They're alive, beautiful, inspiring --
at least in my eyes."
- For 25 years, SCC's soil amendments, created from local yard
trimmings and agricultural discards, have been nourishing local
crops, landscaping, school and home gardens, public lands, and
more. Bakx explains that most soils are poor in organic matter, so
adding compost can increase soil productivity by improving its
structure, providing nutrients, conserving water, reducing
erosion, and increasing microbial activity.
- Even more exciting, SCC's operations divert more waste from
the landfill each year than any other Sonoma County recycling
service. Since 1993, the company has made use of over 1.2 million
tons of discarded material, vitally contributing to the County's
diversion mandates and helping reduce the financial and ecological
impacts of hauling our garbage out of county.
- A Seed Is Planted
- The idea for SCC was sparked when co-owners Bakx and Alan
Siegle met at Sonoma State University, where Bakx was managing the
student farm and Siegle taught the Ecological Food Production
- Siegle also co-owned Bennett Valley Farm, which since 1977 had
been selling organic vegetables and flowers through Bay Area
farmers' markets and stores, plus upscale catalogs.
- When Siegle had difficulty finding organic compost, he and
Bakx talked about creating a company to fill this need. Thus, in
1985, Santa Rosa's Bennett Valley Farm Compost was born, turning
unwanted local horse and turkey manure into a resource that fed
local soils naturally.
- Moving to the Landfill
- In 1989, a new opportunity emerged for the company when
California passed AB 939 (The Integrated Waste Management Act).
This law sought to address the state's increasing waste and
decreasing landfill space by mandating specific targets for
diverting usable materials from our garbage.
- The first reduction target was organic (e.g., carbon-based)
materials, and Empire Waste Management soon invited SCC to partner
in creating a yard debris composting program.
- Bakx was delighted to help, long frustrated by the "terrible
waste" of organic matter going into landfills. And so, in 1993,
SCC's current program was launched at Sonoma County's Central
- Daily Operations
- Standing on SCC's 29 acres, Bakx describes to me how their 20
employees process over 93,000 tons a year of yard trimmings,
agricultural discards, wood debris, and vegetative food
- The materials arrive here via curbside green cans, individual
drop-offs, and local farms, wineries, and food processors. The
company starts by removing contaminants (such as plastic and
glass) and recovering reusable wood items (such as pallets,
lumber, and firewood, which it sells at discounted prices).
- SCC then grinds what's left into composts and mulches that are
placed in 42 windrows (long piles) stretching 7 feet tall, 18 feet
wide, and from 180 to 650 feet long. These windrows are turned,
monitored, and irrigated as needed during their 70- to 100-day
- The company's harvest for its efforts is 84,000 cubic yards
annually of quality soil amendments, including two mulches plus
its Sonoma Compost, Organic Hi-Test Compost (with chicken feathers
for higher nitrogen), Mallard Plus Compost (with rice hulls for
lightness), Feather-Lite Amended Soil (with sandy loam added to
the Mallard), and lime and other custom blends.
- All SCC products except its Path Mulch are OMRI-listed and
allowed on organic farms, helping local farmers serve the growing
organic market while reducing synthetic pesticide and fertilizer
- The Next Frontier
- In 2007, a Sonoma County Waste Management Agency study gave
SCC good news: yard waste in our local garbage had been cut 73%
from 1990 to 2007 (from 86,000 to 23,000 tons annually), and now
was just 6% of total waste. SCC was delighted, says Siegle, "that
we were doing a great job of getting the yard waste out of the
- The report also highlighted the next area that SCC seeks to
address: the 80,000 tons of food waste currently in our trash,
which is 21% of total waste.
- By finding ways to divert and make use of this material, Bakx
and Siegle hope that they'll get closer to their ultimate goal:
recovering all compostable materials from our waste stream.
- And that's an objective that benefits us all.
- Patricia Dines has been a freelance writer and
sustainability consultant for 26 years. For more about her work,
see www.patriciadines.info. For more about Sonoma Compost, see
www.sonomacompost.com or call (707) 578-5459.
"Dear Patricia -- Thanks for the story on Sonoma Compost. It's
a great read that our readers will find both interesting and
educational. We are happy to have the work of a pro and welcome
further stories by you on topics related to the agricultural
industry in Sonoma and Marin Counties."
Tim Tesconi, Editor Sonoma-Marin Farm News, Previously Ag Staff
Writer for the Press Democrat (33 years)
"Patricia -- This article so wonderful. I shared it with all my
co-workers and will with others too as the opportunity arises.
Karina Chilcott, Waste Management Specialist, Sonoma County Waste
This entire website is (c) Patricia
Dines, 1998-2010. All rights reserved.
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