Final Report for LNE09-280
This four-year project focused on providing technical assistance and support to farmers to enhance the marketing of compost in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. The tools used to help farmers, agricultural professionals, and other project participants to help improve their marketing skills included the development of a number of resources, including a Compost Marketing Guide and Model Marketing Plan Template; workshop/field days; and, hands-on technical assistance. Project milestones for farmer outreach and for providing training and support to farmers for the marketing of value-added compost were exceeded.
Through the project, the Northeast Recycling Council, Inc. (NERC) and the Project Team conducted seven compost marketing workshops in four states with a total of 277 participants from around the Northeast. Beneficiary participants included 140 farm compost operators and 36 agricultural professionals, as well as government, nonprofit, and private-sector compost experts and representatives who work with agricultural operations.
More than 3,000 emails, web and blog postings, list serve postings, and mailings of workshop announcements were sent to farm operators; farm associations; Agricultural Extension; State Soil and Water Conservation District Offices; and other agricultural entities, requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcements regarding project workshops/field days and resources. Team members posted announcements on their websites and listserves. Numerous postings were made on agricultural-related websites; several press releases and articles about the project, workshops and project resources were also developed and distributed.
More than 400 CD Resource Toolkits, containing project specific compost marketing materials, along with hundreds of other compost and compost marketing documents, was distributed to all workshop participants, agricultural specialists, and SARE representatives. Project resources and workshop presentations from each of the workshops and additional documents were posted on the NERC website (www.nerc.org). More than 12,000 document downloads have been tracked.
Twenty-nine on-farm consultations were made to provide technical assistance in developing a viable compost product, consideration of tipping fees, niche marketing opportunities, and the development of compost marketing plans to assist in increasing farm compost sales. Marketing Plans were developed and at least partially implemented by fourteen farm compost beneficiaries. Twelve project participant case studies were completed.
Farm beneficiaries reported grossing being $900 and $200,000 from their compost operations.
Farmers often compost for on-farm use; however, selling the product off-farm presents challenges that comparatively few have successfully navigated. Demand for compost products is on the rise, presenting a viable value-added product for farmers. Resources about how to compost abound, however few resources exist to help farmers effectively market the product.
Integrating composting practices into farming operations and refining compost production and utilization methods can help farmers better manage farm organic waste, including manure and crop residues. The resulting compost can be applied for on-farm soil benefits and/or sold as a valued-added product. Compost manufacturing can help farms diversify their operations and increase their sustainability. Farm compost operations can also serve as an integral component in community and regional organics management programs and provide a valuable soil amendment resource.
Around the Northeast, state, regional, and local governments, businesses, and citizens are increasing efforts to better manage organics, particularly food scraps. Food scraps are currently composted at only a 4 percent rate around the country and are the primary contributor to the creation of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from landfills. Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have recently adopted laws that either mandate composting or ban disposal of food scraps. Farm compost operations can be a viable component in the effort to better manage organics and food scraps around the Northeast. The resulting compost product can help farms diversify their business and be more sustainable.
The Northeast Recycling Council, Inc. and project Team Members worked to provide the tools to help farmers: 1) explore composting as a value-added product to support their current business operation; 2) understand the importance of quality control and compost recipe develop; 3) learn how to acquire the necessary permits to operate and market compost in their state; 4) explore potential feedstocks and pricing structures; 5) develop marketing and sales strategies to effectively meet local and regional demand; and 6) develop and implement a compost marketing plan.
Of 80 farmers participating in the field day/workshops, 25 will develop compost marketing plans, 15 of which will implement the plans and sell value-added compost products within two years of implementing the marketing plan as measured by increased sales and tipping fees of roughly $36,000 to $56,000 annually for each participating beneficiary.
More than 270 participants from around the Northeast participated in the workshop/field days, including 140 farmers. Workshop participants were asked to complete a verification questionnaire which asked for interest in receiving technical assistance in marketing farm produced compost as a value-added commodity. Forty-one Beneficiaries expressing interest in technical assistance were contacted by NERC staff.
Several beneficiaries were not considered agricultural operations. Other beneficiaries interested in receiving marketing technical assistance did not have sufficient compost product for effective marketing or were still in product development stage, so many of these individuals were provided guidance and additional information, but were not included in the on-farm consultations. Additional on-farm consultation visits were attempted with six beneficiaries, however after repeated attempts at contact no response was received or scheduling the visits the operators proved not to fit their schedules,
NERC staff made 19 on-farm technical assistance visitations, and nine follow-up visits. Fourteen farmer participants completed marketing plans with NERC staff assistance and implemented at least some of the plan recommendations.
A surprising number of beneficiaries needed more general composting and product development information, limiting the development of the marketing plans. Five farmer beneficiaries were not provided with NERC staff time in actually writing up a compost marketing plan. Upon visiting four of the operations and meeting with the farm operators, NERC staff/project Leader and the farm operators determined that they were not ready to begin marketing compost. In one instance, the operators decided that they were going to continue to meet the farm needs with the produced compost. Three operations were composting, but needed technical assistance to improve their operations and develop a marketable compost product before they could advance into compost marketing. NERC staff provided assistance and resources for these farm operators in terms of feedstock information, operation specifics, and recipe development. The fifth operation already had a handle on marketing their compost and was doing so successfully, so it was decided that they did not actually need to have a plan developed. All beneficiaries received the Resource Toolkit and documents for developing a plan if they wanted to undertake the task in the future.
Additionally, information for development of beneficiary-specific compost marketing plans was discussed at each on-farm consultation. However, farmers were reluctant to take on the actual writing of the plans. Consequently, more NERC staff time and expertise in the development of the compost marketing plans was required than had been anticipated in the original proposal.
Obtaining more concrete information about gross revenues from many of the farm beneficiaries presented a problem for reaching the performance target. In some market areas, increasing competition has made operators leery of providing information. Several operations were just starting out, so did provide information, although revenues were low due to the new status of their operations. Other operations seemed to not have a handle on effective recordkeeping, whether it was due to the fact that they were overwhelmed with just keeping the farm operational or not knowing how to keep the records it was unclear, despite urgings from the project leader about the importance of getting a handle on the operation revenues and expenditures.
Unfortunately the downturn in the economy had an enormous impact on the entire compost industry. This was felt by project beneficiaries as well, contributing to reduced sales and struggles in keeping the operations viable. Two farmer beneficiaries were forced to take off-farm employment and limit the time spent on their new compost operations. Others reported sales substantially down in 2010 and 2011, with slight growth in the markets for 2012 and 2013. Also, several operations were hard hit by spring and fall storms. A rainy and wet spring in many parts of the Northeast in 2013 reduced compost sales during the usual primary marketing season.
Farm beneficiaries reported grossing being $900 and $200,000 from their compost operations.
Beneficiary comments included:
• In 2012, sales Farm Garden Mix/Super Loam increased to 500 yards (from 60 yards in 2011) and sales of compost were similar. In three years business has tripled in size (approximately $4800 grossed in 2011 to $37,500 grossed for 2012).
• Services, including manure collection (discontinued in 2012) and sales revenues were as follows: 2010-$2775; 2011-$11,255; 2012-$6869; 2013-$1570. (Farmer had to take full-time off-farm employment in spring of 2012)
• About one-third of the commercial side of the business was down in 2010 and 2011 (grossing approximately $160,000); sales improved in 2012 (grossing approximately $200,000). In recent years all inventory of finished compost and compost products had sold out by the end of the season.
• The farm compost operation grossed approximately $22,000 in 2012.
• In its first three years of operation, sales increased 60%. In 2012, product sales were just under $3,200.
• The farm grosses approximately $75,000 per year.
• In 2011, the farm sold approximately 30 cubic yards, at about $35 per cubic yard bulk or $6 per bag. The farm grossed approximately $900 through compost product sales.
Project Team involvement was initiated via email, telephone, and conference calls at the start of the project and continued through project end to provide input into development and dissemination of a project Resource Toolkit (on CD); work shop/field day formation, outreach, and implementation; and delivery of technical assistance.
Extensive research was conducted on composting and marketing in order to compile three documents on compost marketing developed by NERC staff. These documents, along with one developed by a Team Peer Expert, were finalized for inclusion in the Resource Toolkit and posted on NERC’s website. A comprehensive Internet search and in various technical journals, as well as consultation with project Team Members, was also conducted for articles and technical writings on compost marketing, general marketing techniques, and general compost operations for inclusion on the Resource Toolkit to be distributed through the project and provided to workshop participants and agricultural specialists.
In addition to distribution to workshop participants, beneficiaries unable to attend the workshop have been emailed or mailed project documents or the CD Resource Toolkit. NERC document website links were sent to numerous inquirers and posted in all announcements about the project, including workshop invitations.
Resources developed for the project, included:
• Making Your Compost Product Work for You (http://nerc.org/documents/compost_marketing/making_your_compost_product_work_for_you.pdf)
• Model Marketing Plan Template (http://nerc.org/documents/compost_marketing/marketing_plan_template.doc)
• Compost Marketing Resource List (http://nerc.org/documents/compost_marketing/compost_marketing_resource_list.pdf)
The project resources posted to the NERC website proved to be very popular, with more than 11,000 document downloads (see Milestone Three). In addition to the project resources, the posted workshop presentations also received thousands of hits.
With more than 400 CD Resource Toolkits distributed, this proved to be a low-cost and highly effective tool for transmitting numerous resources, allowing for multiple copying and distribution of the resources. Agricultural specialists, in particular, spoke highly of this tool as they could make multiple copies at low cost for their constituents. Additionally, NERC’s website document postings have been effective in providing the project resources to thousands of other beneficiaries at no cost.
In order to promote the project field days/workshops, contact lists of farmers were compiled for New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New Hampshire, prior to the workshops in each state. It was difficult to find specific listings of farm compost operations, although when found these operators were added to the contact lists. Horse and livestock operations, as well as general farm operations, from each participating state were included. Web searches, listings from compost operation sites (including Cornell and BioCycle compost directories), along with listings or directories from community supported agriculture websites and organizations, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), Agricultural Extension, State Agricultural farm directories, organic grower organizations, and similar websites were consulted. State agricultural agencies and agricultural support organizations from around the Northeast were also incorporated in the contact lists.
During the project, more than 3,000 emails were sent directly to farm operators; farm associations; Agricultural Extension; State Soil and Water Conservation District Offices; and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of workshop announcements. Agricultural Specialist Team Members from each state in which workshops were held posted the workshop announcement and sent it out on their respective listserves or contact lists. Farms without email addresses were mailed a flier about the workshop. It was important to also solicit sponsors for each workshop in order to gain their assistance in promoting the workshops. Press releases, blog postings, and calendar listings were also used as a way to communicate with farmers. These tactics proved effective in reaching appropriate farm operators and agricultural specialists.
Development of partnerships with project Peer Experts, Agricultural Specialists, and beneficiaries, as well as other compost experts (agricultural, private, and public sector), government agencies, nonprofits, and others proved vital for development of effective outreach and promotion of project resources and workshops, as well as for sponsorship and formation of the workshops/field days. The ability to draw upon a wealth of experts for presenters and tour options was invaluable to the project and benefits afforded project farmer beneficiaries.
NERC and Team Members planned and implemented seven compost marketing workshops in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York, with 275 participants from around the Northeast. Beneficiary participants included 140 farm compost operators and 36 agricultural professionals, as well as municipal and private sector compost operators. All workshops featured presentations by project Peer Experts and compost specialists, facility operators, state Department of Environment and Department of Agriculture representatives, and other agricultural experts.
A wide range of compost marketing principles were presented at each workshop, including: the importance of compost quality; compost as a commodity; market sectors; product positioning; volume vs. value markets; distribution and delivery options; making money from tipping fees; establishing a fair market return; finding a niche; meeting customer needs; branding; social marketing; customer education tips; and sales principles and strategies, along with state specific information on regulations (focusing on farm compost operations). Another primary feature of these all day events was a roundtable discussion offering an opportunity for interaction between all participants and presenters. The “field day” tour of a compost site included at the end of the workshops featured presentations by the site’s compost operator. Workshop presentations were done in PowerPoint and posted to the NERC’s website. All participants received hard copies of the NERC compost marketing documents, the project CD Resource Toolkit, workshop agenda, and a verification questionnaire to complete.
Networking opportunities, interaction with presenters, Q&A, the roundtable, and the operation tour with all participants have proven to be very popular features of each of the workshops. Participants were asked to complete a verification questionnaire at the end of each workshop. The questionnaire inquired about current operation and marketing, marketing needs, and how the workshop may have helped them. The questionnaire also asked participants if they were interested in receiving technical assistance in development of a marketing plan and strategies.
Reviews of the workshops were overwhelmingly favorable and successful in meeting the marketing skills and training goals of participants in the workshops. NERC staff followed up with questionnaire respondents expressing interest in receiving technical assistance.
A total of 29 on-farm technical assistance consultations were conducted; these included nineteen initial farm Beneficiary visits to tour and discuss the compost operation with farmer operators, compost products, current marketing and sales strategies, and goals. Ten farmer Beneficiaries received follow-up consultations; all Beneficiaries received ongoing email and telephone contact throughout the project. NERC worked with fourteen farmer Beneficiaries to complete and implement compost marketing plans. Twelve beneficiary case studies were completed.
- Sample Workshop/Field Day Announcement
- Sample Workshop/Field Day Agenda
- Sample Workshop/Field Day Agenda_2
- Sample Workshop/Field Day Agenda_3
- Workshop/Field Day photo_2
- Field Day Compost Site Tour_1
- Field Day Compost Site Tour_2
- Workshop/Field Day photo_1
- Compost Marketing Guide
- Compost Marketing List
- Model Marketing Plan Template
- Farmer Peer Expert Marketing Concepts
Milestone 1: Form a Project Team of 19 individuals from four different states to assist in development of the Toolkit, outreach, workshop/field day development and implementation, delivery of technical assistance, and project verification. (May 2009 – April 2013)
The Project Team of 19 individuals from four different states, including three farmer beneficiaries, nine farmer Peer Experts, and seven Agricultural Specialists were contacted prior to the grant submittal and again at the start of the project in May 2009. An overview of the project was presented to Team Members, along with a project task list. Members were asked to be thinking about resources to include in the project Resource Toolkit, contacts to invite to the field day/workshops, and context and specific topics they would like to see addressed at the workshops. Project Team involvement continued through the conclusion of the project with development and dissemination of the Toolkit; workshop formation, outreach, and implementation; delivery of technical assistance and market plan development; and, case study review.
Development of the workshops began in the summer of 2009 with communication with five New York Project Team members to discuss the New York and Massachusetts workshops. Various conference calls with New York and Massachusetts Team Members were held to review the workshop agenda, discuss outreach, venue logistics, and other details.
In consultation with the New York Team Members, the venue and date for the New York workshop was set for March 30, 2009 at a Team Peer Expert farm compost operation. The work planned with Massachusetts Team Members was planned for April 7, 2009 at the New England Small Farm Institute in Belchertown. The location of the venue is a change from the original proposal in order to accommodate more people at the workshop and to involve the New England Small Farm Institute as an additional partner.
As the project progressed, ongoing communication continued to occur via conference calls, and telephone or email conversations with Project Team members, primarily Agricultural Specialists and Peer Experts from each participating state. Team Members were asked to review the marketing documents compiled by NERC staff. One Peer Expert compiled a document for the Resource Toolkit that is also posted on the NERC website. Several Agricultural Specialists and Peer Experts were involved in workshop logistics and presented at the workshops; all Team Members were involved in workshop promotion. Peer Experts Ray and Erich McEnroe of McEnroe Organics hosted the first New York workshop. Additionally, one Beneficiary Team Member attended the workshop; three other Beneficiary Team Members attended the New York Workshop held in January 2011.
In New York, Jean Bonhotal, Associate Director, Cornell Waste Management Institute; Dr. Robert Rynk, SUNY Cobleskill; Gary Feinland, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation; and Sally Rowland, Ph.D., P.E., NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, participated on the Project Team. The Project Team was instrumental in helping to determine the logistics, dates, agenda, and speakers for both New York workshops. Members also reviewed the documents NERC developed for the project, and provided input into additional resources contained on the Toolkit.
In Massachusetts, Sumner Martinson, Organics Director, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, has been the primary active Team member for the State. He was instrumental in helping to determine the logistics, agenda, and speakers for the three Compost Marketing events held in Massachusetts (2010, 2011, and 2012). He also reviewed the documents NERC developed for the project, and provided input into additional resources contained on the Toolkit. Email and telephone dialogues were held with the New England Small Farm Institute and Team Members prior to first workshop. Ongoing telephone and email dialogues with Mr. Martinson continued through 2011 for the planning of the second workshop held in March in Wrentham, Massachusetts. Gerard Kennedy, an Agricultural Specialist and Project Team member, posted announcements for the workshops on the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources weekly marketing report. Mr. Martinson and Team Peer Expert Geoffrey Kuter (AgResource) presented at two workshops; Mr. Martinson helped to organize the third workshop (a compost operators and marketing training) and also presented at the training, along with Mr. Kennedy.
Stephen Komar, County Agricultural Agent, Cooperative Extension of Sussex County, a Team Member for New Jersey and the Peer Experts from AgChoice provided no assistance on the project despite repeated contacts by NERC staff. However, to begin organizing the workshop in New Jersey, NERC staff contacted Joanna Dillon, Education and Outreach Coordinator, Northeast Organic Farming Association of NJ, who agreed to co-host the workshop for New Jersey, held on January 31, 2011 in Hillsborough. Ms. Dillon proved instrumental in helping to gain speakers for the event, the venue, registration, additional logistics, and conducting outreach. Additionally, Michael L. Westendorf, Ph.D., PAS, Extension Specialist in Animal Sciences, Rutgers University provided assistance in formulation of the agenda and ideas for potential speakers. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection staff also actively participated in formation of the Workshop, along with Erich Bremer, Supervisor of the Organic Certification Program for New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
In New Hampshire, Richard B. Uncles, Director, Division of Regulatory Services, Department of Agriculture and project Team Member was consulted about the workshop to be held in New Hampshire in 2011. NERC Staff also worked with a representative from Northeast Organic Farming (NOFA) New Hampshire to host the compost marketing workshop held in March 2011 in Concord.
Milestone 2: 155 CD copies of Resource Toolkit distributed (80 to workshop/field day participants, 40 to Agricultural Specialists, 35 SARE representatives), and posted on NERC website.
(September 2009 – March 2011)
NERC staff began research in May 2009 for resources to include in the Project Toolkit, including general and compost specific marketing information, marketing techniques and development of marketing plans, compost processing and quality control resources, and a resource list. As described in Milestone 1, project Team Members were consulted and contributed resources, including state regulatory information and organics standards information.
Through an extensive search on the Internet and various technical journals, as well as consultation with project Team Members and other compost experts, hundreds of articles and technical writings were obtained on compost marketing, general marketing techniques, and general compost operations for inclusion on the Resource Toolkit provided to workshop participants. In addition to distribution to workshop participants, beneficiaries unable to attend the workshop were emailed or mailed documents or Resource Toolkits. Links to the documents on NERC’s website were sent to numerous inquirers and posted in all announcements about the project.
A representative from the US Composting Council contacted NERC staff about the project and potential ways to work together to promote the project and the Composting Council’s Compost School to be offered in the late summer of 2010. NERC staff also participated in a conference call organized by the New York Empire State Development (ESD) office about working with farm compost operators to accept food scraps as feedstocks. ESD developed resource materials for compost operations to utilize in incorporating food scraps into their composting processing and created an “organics portal” on their website, with links to NERC’s compost marketing resources.
In March 2010, three documents were finalized for inclusion in the Resource Toolkit:
• Compost Maraketing Guide: Making Your Compost Product Work for You (http://nerc.org/documents/compost_marketing/making_your_compost_product_work_for_you.pdf)
• Model Marketing Plan Template (http://nerc.org/documents/compost_marketing/marketing_plan_template.doc)
• Compost Marketing Resource List (http://nerc.org/documents/compost_marketing/compost_marketing_resource_list.pdf)
An additional document—“Word of Mouth Marketing Concepts”—was developed by Team Peer Expert, Bill Obear from Bear Path Farm Compost.
These documents were provided in hard copy to all workshop participants, put into the Resource Toolkit (a CD distributed to all workshop participants), and posted on the NERC website.
More than 400 CD Resource Toolkits were distributed to workshop participants and agricultural specialists (for distribution to additional farm beneficiaries) and SARE representatives. In 2010, 105 Toolkits were distributed; in 2011, 225 Toolkits were distributed; in 2012, 65 Toolkits were distributed. Agricultural specialists also reported using the Toolkit to make additional copies for their constituents.
Additionally, NERC received funding from the Stokes Foundation to compile and distribute 300 CD Resource Toolkits containing hundreds of manure management, composting, and compost marketing resources, including resources developed for the SARE project. These CDs were distributed primarily in Massachusetts through workshops on manure management, farm-based composting, and compost marketing conducted by NERC staff, as well as through agricultural support organizations and agencies around New England.
With the project distribution of more than 300 Toolkits and the addition of the 300 Stokes Foundation Toolkits, substantially more Resource Toolkits were distributed than in the original Milestone proposal.
Summary of CD Resource Toolkit Distribution:
March 2010 – 60 CDs distributed to New York workshop participants and agricultural specialists on Team and attending the workshop
April 2010 – 45 CDs distributed to Massachusetts workshop participants and agricultural specialists on Team and attending the workshop
June 2010 – NERC produced documents, Farm Peer Expert document, and Workshop presentations posted on NERC website. Update to NERC’s Northeast Compost and Fertilizer Regulations completed and posted on NERC website
January 2011 – 40 CDs distributed to New York workshop participants
January 2011 – 45 CDs distributed to New Jersey workshop participants, NOFA New Jersey staff, and agricultural specialists attending the workshop
February 2011 – Patrick Natale, Agricultural Outreach Specialist, North Jersey RC&D made 50 additional copies of the CD for distribution to farmers in his District
March 2011 – 20 CDs distributed at NOFA New Hampshire Winter Conference
March 2011 – 25 CDs distributed to New Hampshire workshop participants
March 2011 – 45 CDs distributed to Massachusetts workshop participants and agricultural specialists on Team and attending the workshop
January 2012 – 10 CDs distributed to SARE Representatives attending the second-tier panel meeting for grant review
March 2012 – 55 CDs distributed to Massachusetts workshop participants and Agricultural Specialists attending the workshop
300 CDs – Stokes Foundation grant CD Resource Toolkit Distribution
January 2013 – 10 CDs distributed to SARE Representatives attending the second-tier panel meeting for grant review.
10 CDs were mailed or distributed upon request.
NERC Website Document Posting and Tracking:
Documents developed for the Project were posted on the NERC website and downloads were tracked. More than 12,000 downloads were tracked.
Document downloads from NERC website in 2011:
“Making Your Compost Product Work for You” – 917 downloads
“Compost Marketing Plan Template” – 1,399 downloads
“Compost Marketing Resource List” – 1,558 downloads
Document downloads from NERC website in 2012:
“Making Your Compost Product Work for You” – 1,970 downloads
“Compost Marketing Plan Template” – 3,699 downloads
“Compost Marketing Resource List” – 1,734 downloads
Document downloads from NERC website in 2013:
“Making Your Compost Product Work for You” – 994 downloads
“Compost Marketing Plan Template” – 72 downloads
“Compost Marketing Resource List” – 12 downloads
(Note: In early 2013 NERC was in the process of switching over its website host and the new host failed to account for website hits. The downloads noted for 2013 are from April-September when the project ended.)
In addition to the project resources, Project field day/workshop presentations posted on the NERC website also received thousands of hits.
A link to the NERC website resources, along with a description of the project, was posted on the SARE Learning Center and the “Dig Deeper” section of the NESARE website in February 2012.
Milestone 3: At least 500 on-farm composters will be contacted for participation in workshop/field days. (September 2009 – March 2011)
NERC staff posted an article about the Marketing on Farm Compost Project in the NERC monthly electronic bulletin in April 2009 which is distributed to approximately 600 people. BioCycle magazine published the article as well in its June 2009 edition. Eight inquiries regarding the project were made following the bulletin and BioCycle article. Four were from farmers; these were added to the project workshop outreach contact lists; one was from the State of Maryland inquiring about the ability to participate in the project; another was from Vermont with a similar inquiry; a staff person from Empire State Development office in New York state inquired about the project in New York; and another contact came from a compost expert inquiring about more specifics on the project.
Contact lists of farmers around the Northeast were compiled for New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, with additional farmers and agricultural contacts added regularly. Lists included farm operations from New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Maryland, Maine, Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.
More than 3,000 emails were sent directly to farm operators; farm associations; Agricultural Extension; State Soil and Water Conservation District Offices; and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of workshop announcements to promote project field days/workshops. Agricultural Specialist Team Members from each state in which workshops were held posted the workshop announcement and sent it out on their respective listserves or contact lists. These tactics served to reach far more on-farm composters to promote the workshop/field days than originally targeted.
In January 2010, more than 300 emails of the workshop flier were sent directly to farm operators; farm associations; Agricultural Extension; all New York State Soil and Water Conservation District Offices; and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcement for New York Compost Marketing Workshop held March 30, 2010. An additional 30 farm operations were notified by mail.
In January and February 2010, more than 100 emails of the workshop flier were sent directly to farm operators, farm associations, Agricultural Extension, Massachusetts Conservation District Offices, and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcement for Massachusetts Compost Marketing Workshop held April 7, 2010. A bulletin was also posted on the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Farm/Market Report by a project Peer Expert. As the workshop was conducted in conjunction with the New England Small Farm Institute, they also promoted the workshop through their website and contact lists.
In November 2010, more than 300 emails of workshop flier were sent directly to farm operators; farm associations; Agricultural Extension; all New York State Soil and Water Conservation District Offices; and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcement for the New York Compost Marketing Workshop held on January 12, 2011 at Cornell University. Additionally, the New York Agricultural Specialists on the Project Team also sent out announcements to their contact lists.
In November and December 2010, more than 225 emails of workshop flier were sent directly to farm operators; farm associations; Rutgers Agricultural Specialists/Extension; New Jersey State Soil and Water Conservation District Offices; and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of announcement for New Jersey Compost Marketing Workshop to be held January 28, 2011. As the workshop was conducted in conjunction with the NOFA New Jersey Winter conference, the workshop is also being heavily promoted on their website, email lists, and other outreach.
In January and February 2011, some 500 emails of the workshop flier were sent directly to farm operators, farm associations, Agricultural Extension, Massachusetts Conservation District Offices, and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcement for Massachusetts Compost Marketing Workshop held in March 2011. A bulletin was also posted on the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Farm/Market Report by a project Peer Expert. As the workshop was conducted in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Massachusetts Recycling Association’s Annual Organics Summit, the workshop was heavily promoted by both MASSDEP and MassRecycle on their websites, emails, press releases, and additional outreach.
In February 2011, 350 emails of the workshop flier were sent directly to farm operators, farm associations, Agricultural Extension, New Hampshire Conservation District Offices, and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcement for New Hampshire Compost Marketing workshop held in March 2011. Additional announcements were sent out through NOFA New Hampshire.
In January, February, and March 2012, some 500 emails of the Compost Operator and Marketing Training flier were sent directly to farm operators, farm associations, Agricultural Extension, Massachusetts Conservation District Offices, and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcement for the Compost Operations and Marketing Training for Massachusetts held in March 2012. A bulletin was also posted on the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Farm/Market Report by a project Peer Expert. As the workshop was conducted in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Massachusetts Recycling Association’s Annual Organics Summit, the workshop was heavily promoted by both MASSDEP and MassRecycle on their websites, emails, press releases, and additional outreach. The training also specifically targeted agricultural compost operations, so Massachusetts Department of Agriculture also heavily promoted it through their website and listservs.
Milestone 4: 80 beneficiary farmers will gain knowledge and skills in compost marketing by participating in workshops/field days and receiving the Toolkit. Beneficiaries will complete a questionnaire and be offered individual assistance to develop and implement a compost marketing plan. (October 2009 – March 2011)
275 participant beneficiaries from around the Northeast participated in seven compost marketing workshops in four states; participants included 140 beneficiary farmers and 36 agricultural professionals. The workshop/field days were very successful at involving substantially more farmers and agricultural professionals than originally targeted. All participants received hard copies of the NERC compost marketing documents, a CD Resource Toolkit, workshop agenda, and a verification questionnaire to complete. The verification questionnaire asked about current operation and marketing, marketing needs, and how the workshop may have helped them. Through the verification questionnaire, all farm-based beneficiaries were presented with the opportunity for technical assistance. A total of 101 completed questionnaires were received from workshop participants.
Speakers for the workshops/field days included project Peer Experts and compost specialists, facility operators, state Department of Environment and Department of Agriculture representatives, and other agricultural experts. A wide range of compost marketing principles were presented at each workshop, along with state specific information on regulations (focusing on farm compost operations). Topics included: the importance of compost quality; compost as a commodity; market sectors; product positioning; volume vs. value markets; distribution and delivery options; making money from tipping fees; establishing a fair market return; finding a niche; meeting customer needs; branding; social marketing; customer education tips; and sales principles and strategies. Presentations were typically done in PowerPoint and posted to the NERC website. Two other primary features of these all day events were a roundtable discussion, followed by a tour of a compost site and presentation by a facility operator.
Networking opportunities, interaction with presenters, Q&A, the roundtable with all presenters and participants, along with the tour proved to be very popular features of each of the workshops. Reviews of the workshops were overwhelmingly favorable and successful in meeting the marketing skills and training goals of participants.
On March 30, 2010, the first project workshop/field day was held in Millerton, New York, hosted by Team Expert Members from McEnroe Organics. Fifty-six (56) people participated in the Workshop and received the Resource Toolkit (33 farmers; 10 agricultural specialists).Presenters included Jean Bonhotal, Director of Cornell Waste Management Institute and project Team Member/Agricultural Specialist; Athena Lee Bradley, NERC staff and project Leader; Ray McEnroe, McEnroe Organics, project Peer Expert; Sally Rowland, Ph.D., P.E., with NYSDEC – Division of Solid & Hazardous Materials and project Agricultural Specialist; and Chuck Duprey, WeCare Organics, LLC. The workshop provided marketing insights and sales techniques, including technical information on compost applications and benefits, feedstocks, quality standards, marketing principles, developing a marketing plan, product positioning, the ins-and-outs of compost market segments, bulk sales vs. bagged, distribution strategies, and making money on tipping fees. Sales strategies were also covered, including sales points, using social media and new media techniques, branding, and customer education tips. Sponsors included the Northeast Recycling Council, Inc., New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, SUNY Cobleskill, and Cornell Waste Management Institute. Fifteen participants returned completed questionnaires; nine farmers stated interest in possible technical assistance for compost marketing.
On April 7, 2010, the second workshop was held at the New England Small Farm Institute in Belchertown, Massachusetts. Forty-three (43) people participated in the workshop and received the Resource Toolkit (19 farmers; 7 agricultural specialists). Bruce Fulford, President of City Soil & Greenhouse presented on Compost Quality and Best Management Practices, including the importance of quality for marketing success, compost applications and benefits, comparison of compost to other products, and feedstocks/recipe development. Geoffrey Kuter, President of AgResource Company and Project Peer Advisor discussed Marketing Principles, including compost as a commodity, developing a business model, market sectors, trends, and product positioning, volume vs. value markets, distribution options, tip fees, costs and pricing, and more. Don Franczyk, Director of Baystate Organic Certification and Judith Gillan, Director of the New England Small Farm Institute also spoke. The workshop included a Marketing and Sales Strategies Roundtable and was followed by a tour of the Farmer’s Friend compost operation. Nineteen participants completed questionnaires; eight farmers stated interest in possible technical assistance.
The third project workshop was held on January 12, 2011 in Ithaca, New York at Cornell Waste Management Institute. Despite an unexpectedly powerful snow storm, 37 people from around the state of New York, Vermont, and Pennsylvania braved the weather to attend. Participants included: seventeen farmers; five agricultural professionals (Cornell Waste Management Institute, Schenectady County Soil & Water, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture); seven government representatives (including, Cayuga County Solid Waste District, Monroe County, Oneida Herkimer Solid Waste Facility) and five private compost operators (including, Cayuga Compost, Intervale Compost Products, Nordmack Corporation, AgRecycle). Three farm Beneficiary Team Members – Ken Van Alstine, and Paul and Maureen Knapp were present. Presenters included Agricultural Specialist Team Members Jean Bonhotal, Director, Cornell Waste Management Institute and Dr. Robert Rynk, SUNY Cobleskill, Agricultural Engineering Department; Mark Wittig, Cayuga Compost also presented. Sponsors for the workshop included NERC; Cornell Waste Management Institute; SUNY Cobleskill; and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The event included a tour of the Cornell Compost Facility. [Note: It was decided not to cancel the event in advance, as weather reports were not anticipating significant snow fall, and it was unsure what the next week (the planned “snow day”) would bring. 45 people had originally registered for the event, plus 27 people on the waiting list. Many people could not make the trip; this included 2 speakers and the Team Member Agricultural Specialist from New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Additionally, the workshop started late to allow for people to make it in under the poor driving conditions; people were also anxious to leave as the snow was still coming down, so the event was shortened to allow for those who wanted to go on the Cornell compost site visit to get started. Only ten people responded to the workshop questionnaire.]
The fourth workshop was held on January 28, 2011 at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey. Presenters included Dr. Michael L. Westendorf, Rutgers University, Department of Animal Sciences; Loren S. Muldowney, Staff Scientist Rutgers/NJAES Soil Testing Lab; Erich V. Bremer, Supervisor, Organic Certification Program, New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Division of Marketing and Development; Frank Kerns with JH Reid Recycling (mulch operation); and Athena Lee Bradley, NERC staff and project coordinator. Sponsors for the workshop were NERC; the Northeast Organic Farming Association of NJ; and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Presentation topics included: Best Management Practices and Introduction to Marketing, including applications and benefits, comparison of compost/mulch to other products, feedstocks/recipe development, introduction to the marketing principles, compost as a commodity, and preparing a usable marketing plan; Marketing/Sales, including general business model tips, tips on costs and pricing, sales principles and strategies; Working in New Jersey’s Regulatory Environment; and Compost for Organic Farming. Thirty-three people participated in the workshop. Fifteen participant beneficiaries were farmers and three were agricultural professionals (State of New Jersey Department of Agriculture and Rutgers University). Additionally, several participants represented nonprofit organizations, community gardens, and the Western Queens Compost Initiative. A tour of the Duke Farms/JH Reid Compost site was conducted following the workshop.
The fifth workshop was held in Concord, New Hampshire on March 26, 2011. The workshop was co-sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association New Hampshire (NOFA NH). Twenty-three people participated, including 17 farmers and one agricultural professional (president of NOFA-NH). Additional participants included a representative from the State of Maine Planning Office and a representative from the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission (NH). Presenters included: Athena Lee Bradley, NERC staff and project Leader; Bob Kelly, Seacoast Farms Compost Products, Inc.; and, Peter Schmidt, Compostwerks, LLC. Presentation topics included: Best Management Practices and Introduction to Marketing, including applications and benefits, comparison of compost/mulch to other products, feedstocks/recipe development, introduction to the marketing principles, compost as a commodity, and preparing a usable marketing plan; Marketing/Sales, including general business model tips, product positioning, distribution/delivery strategies, tips on costs and pricing, attributes of a successful compost supplier; and Compost Products, Creating a Niche, including developing and selling specialty compost products, creating a niche that works for you, and sales principles and strategies. The workshop was followed by a tour of Lewis Farm Composting and a talk given by Harry Lewis about his operation and marketing.
The sixth workshop was conducted in Massachusetts on Monday, March 28, 2011 at the Wrentham Developmental Center in Wrentham. The workshop was held in conjunction with the annual Massachusetts Organic Summit. Sponsors for the workshop were NERC and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Forty-two people participated; twenty-seven participants were farmers and two were agricultural professionals (Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection). Additional participants included: Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation; Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection; US Environmental Protection Agency (New England); U.S. Pure Energy, Inc.; Bridgewater (MA) Correctional Complex; Lexington (MA) Department of Public Works; Framingham (MA) Department of Public Works; Sustainable Arlington; and Town of Hingham, Department of Public Works. Presenters included: Athena Lee Bradley, NERC staff; Geoffrey Kuter, Agresource, Inc.; Gary Mottau, Groundscapes Express, Inc. (Wrentham Farm). The workshop included a tour of Groundscapes Express, an agricultural composting operation, and an overview of the operation presented by Butch Goodwin, Operations Manager.
Additionally, the “Compost Marketing: Strategies for Success” presentation developed by NERC staff for the project was presented at the annual NOFA-NH conference in March in Exeter, New Hampshire and at the New England Small Farm Institute in December for a Stokes Foundation funded project. An additional 25 farmers attended these two workshops.
The last project workshop/field day—a “Compost Operation and Marketing Training for Massachusetts” was held on March 26, 2012. This all-day event featured two Peer Expert speakers, the Project Leader, and other compost experts and focused on presenting the important elements to successfully run and manage an agricultural composting operation. The workshop/field day included classroom lecture, hands-on exercises, and field demonstrations. The workshop was followed by a tour of Groundscapes Express, an agricultural composting operation, and an overview of the operation presented by John Engwer, owner and operator. The goal of the training was to present the important elements to successfully run and manage a compost operation in order to create and market a quality compost product. The event brought together 43 agricultural, commercial, and municipal compost operators, including twelve farmers and seven agricultural professionals. Holly Wescott, founder and president of Compostabilities, LLC, was the primary presenter for the Training, providing a “Compost and Soils 101” overview; “Composting Basics: Microbes to Machinery,” a discussion of the science of composting, recipe development, composting methods and turning/aeration equipment, windrow management and monitoring, aerated static piles, and other compost technologies; and, “Getting the Site Right: Design to Operations,” providing an overview of site design and layout, space requirements, equipment, loading and off-loading, managing the operation, and potential problems and pests. Massachusetts compost operations regulations were also discussed. Gerard Kennedy (Peer Expert) provided an overview of agricultural composting in Massachusetts and information on new requirements for registering an agricultural compost operation. Sumner Martinson (Peer Expert) discussed the Massachusetts Compost Regulations. Lisa Petruski, a soil conservationist at the U.S.D.A. Natural Resource Conservation Service, provided an overview of the NRCS Compost Pad Construction and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). NERC Staff and project Leader, Athena Lee Bradley, presented the compost marketing section of the Training—“Making a Quality Compost Product for Market.” The presentation provided a look at compost feedstocks and options for tip fees as revenue sources, quality assurance and product testing, compost market options, an introduction to marketing principles, compost as a commodity, the important of branding, promotion, social marketing in being a successful compost supplier, and good neighbor public and media relations.
Milestone 5: 25 beneficiaries will ask for and be provided assistance in developing and implementing a compost marketing plan, including two on-farm consultations each. (January 2010 – March 2012)
Forty-one beneficiaries expressed interest in being contacted for technical assistance on the workshop/field day verification questionnaire. In 2010, 18 beneficiaries expressed interest in being contacted for technical assistance; in 2011, 20 beneficiaries expressed interest; and in 2012, three beneficiaries expressed interest in being contacted for technical assistance.
All beneficiaries expressing interest in technical assistance were contacted by NERC staff.
Nineteen beneficiaries were provided assistance in developing and implementing a compost marketing plan (eight in 2010; nine in 2011; two in 2012), including an on-farm consultation and technical assistance in developing a viable compost product, consideration of tipping fees, and niche marketing opportunities to assist in increasing farm compost sales. Fourteen compost marketing plans were completed by NERC staff with input and review by farm beneficiaries.
On-farm technical assistance consultation site visits involved a discussion with the farm compost operators, a tour of their compost operation, a review of their current operation, compost products, and marketing goals to include in the compost market plan development. NERC staff provided onsite technical assistance and suggestions for operational improvements, marketing, and product development and sales.
A total of 29 on-farm consultations were conducted, including nineteen initial farm Beneficiary visits to tour and discuss the compost operation and the operation’s compost products, current marketing and sales strategies, as well as on-farm compost uses, and product and marketing goals and strategies. Follow-up on-farm consultations were provided to ten Beneficiaries to discuss implementation of the marketing plan and verification objectives for the project. Additionally, NERC staff and project Team Members were available to answer Beneficiary questions via email and telephone.
Ongoing contact continued with beneficiaries and resources and technical assistance provided upon request throughout the project duration.
Farm Onsite Technical Assistance Visits:
2010 On-Farm Visits
March 30, 2010 – Laurel Brook Farm in East Canaan, Connecticut
• A marketing plan was not done as the operation was already successfully marketing its material
June 9, 2010 – Hilltop Hanover Farm in Yorktown Heights, New York
• A marketing plan was not done as the operation determined that it would only be producing enough compost to use on the farm for the next few years
June 9, 2010 – Collins Compost in Enfield, Connecticut
• Market Plan complete
• Second Visit – Scheduled January 23, 2013; cancelled due to bad weather, per farmer
• Case study complete
August 17, 2010 – Tripp’s Dairy Farm in Westport, Massachusetts
• Market Plan complete
• Second Visit – January 11, 2013
• Case study complete
August 17, 2010 – Newland Farm in Norton, Massachusetts
• Market Plan complete
• Second Visit – January 11, 2013
• Case study complete
August 17, 2010 – Aquidneck Farm in Portsmouth, Rhode Island
• Market Plan complete
• Second Visit – January 25, 2013
• Case study completed
September 16, 2010 – Holiday Brook Farm in Dalton, Massachusetts
• Market Plan complete
• Second Visit – Farmer said he did not have time
• Case study complete
September 16, 2010 – Gray Craig Farm in Belchertown, Massachusetts
• Operation was not ready to market compost. NERC staff assisted with development of their worm composting operation and SARE grant submission
2011 On-Farm Visits
January 13 – Cobblestone Valley Farm (Beneficiaries) in Preble, NY
• Market Plan complete
• Second Visit – November 11, 2012
• Case study complete
January 13 – Devine Gardens in Nelson, New York
• Market Plan complete
• Second Visit – November 10, 2012
• Case study complete
January 14 – Fern Hill Farm Compost in Red Creek, New York
• Market Plan complete
• Second Visit – November 11, 2012
• Case study complete
January 14 – Higher Ground Farm in Hoosick Falls, New York
• Operation was not ready to market compost. NERC staff assisted with development of their composting operation
February 23 – Stone Hill River Farms in Bedford, New York
• Market Plan complete
• Second Visit – March 18, 2013
• Case study complete
May 6 – White Clover Farm in Fairfax, Vermont.
• Market Plan complete
• Case study was not done as the farmer had to take on fulltime off-farm employment and significantly curtail his compost operation
June 21 – Always Something Farm in Croydon, New Hampshire
• Market Plan complete
• Second Visit – Dec 5, 2012
• Case study complete
September 15 – Shadow Valley Farm in Somers, Connecticut
• Market Plan complete
• Second Visit – Scheduled January 23, 2013; cancelled due to bad weather, per farmer
• Case study was not done as the farmer provided insufficient information about market plan implementation and project verification
September 26 – Fiddlehead Farm in Rhinebeck, New York
• Operation was not ready to market compost. NERC staff assisted with development of their composting operation
2012 On-Farm Visits
May 17 – Mayval Farm, Westhampton, Massachusetts
• Market Plan complete
• Second Visit – farm operators were too busy with construction and operation of new farm creamery
• Case Study complete
December 19 – Amend Organics, Amherst, Massachusetts
• Market Plan complete
• Second visit – August 19, 2013
• Case study complete
All 41 workshop beneficiaries expressing interest in technical assistance were contacted by NERC staff. However, not all beneficiaries expressing interest in technical assistance were farmers, so these individuals were ultimately eliminated from receiving assistance. Additionally, others who expressed interest did not actually have enough material to market or were still in product development stage, so many of these individuals were provided guidance and additional information, but were not included in the on-farm consultations. The project Leader also attempted to schedule site visits with six additional workshop/field day farmer beneficiaries but did not receive responses after several attempts or could not coordinate schedules with the farmer.
The need to provide more general composting and product development information to many of the beneficiaries slowed progress in completing the marketing plans. Information for development of beneficiary-specific compost marketing plans was discussed at each on-farm consultation. However, farmers were reluctant to take on the actual writing of the plans. Consequently, more NERC staff time and expertise in the development of the compost marketing plans was required than had been anticipated in the original proposal.
As noted in the site visit summary above, five farmer Beneficiaries were not provided with NERC staff time in actually writing up a compost marketing plan. Upon visiting four of the operations and meeting with the farm operators, NERC staff/project Leader and the farm operators determined that they were not ready to begin marketing compost. In one instance, the operators decided that they were going to continue to meet the farm needs with the produced compost. Three operations were composting, but needed technical assistance to improve their operations and develop a marketable compost product before they could advance into compost marketing. NERC staff provided assistance and resources for these farm operators in terms of feedstock information, operation specifics, and recipe development. The fifth operation already had a handle on marketing their compost and was doing so successfully, so it was decided that they did not actually need to have a plan developed. All beneficiaries received the Resource Toolkit and documents for developing a plan if they wanted to undertake the task in the future.
Milestone 6: Follow-up verification with (25) technical assistance beneficiaries and 10 case studies written documenting successfully implemented compost marketing plans. The case studies will be incorporated into an updated Toolkit. Revised toolkit will be mailed to SARE representatives and others upon request. (March 2012 – April 2013)
All farmers receiving technical assistance and completing a compost marketing plan received the verification questions and were requested by NERC staff on several occasions to provide customer and sales/revenue information. NERC staff made four follow-up onsite farm visits in 2012 and five in 2013 to provide follow-up technical assistance, pursue project verification, and finalize information to be included in the project case studies.
Case studies of farm compost operations which participated in NERC’s project are posted on the NERC website:
• Always Something Farm in Croydon, New Hampshire
• Amend Organics in Amherst, Massachusetts
• Aquidneck Farm in Portsmouth, Rhode Island
• Cobblestone Valley Farm in Preble, New York
• Collins Compost in Enfield, Connecticut
• Devine Gardens in Nelson, New York
• Fern Hill Farm Compost in Red Creek, New York
• Holiday Brook Farm in Dalton, Massachusetts
• Mayval Farm in Westhampton, Massachusetts
• Newland Farm in Norton, Massachusetts
• Stone Hill River Farms in Bedford, New York
• Tripp’s Dairy Farm in Westport, Massachusetts
Through the verification process and development of case studies, the project Leader found that all project Beneficiaries implemented at least some compost operation, product quality measures, and marketing strategies promoted in the Resource Toolkit, workshops/field days, and marketing plans. Many factors seemed to come into play with the operations, their response to the verification questions, and their implementation of the compost marketing plans and strategies.
Two farmers seemed to be focused on “business as usual”—continuing his marketing through word-of-mouth, chasing leads, etc. Two farmers were simply too busy with their farm operation to concentrate on increasing their compost marketing. The majority of Beneficiaries embraced at least some the suggestions obtained through the workshops, resources, and marketing plan. Three Beneficiaries who were just beginning their farm compost operations embraced fully the marketing strategies and tactics promoted through the project.
Case Study Summaries
Always Something Farm
Always Something Farm sells two compost products: a “pure” compost product, marketed as a soil amendment for garden or lawn and, a compost/loam mix (a “Garden Mix” or “Super Loam”) for raised gardens and lawn repairs or new lawns. The operation also sells three kinds of bark mulch. All products are sold in bulk. Compost sells for $35/yard and $40/yard, if delivered. The Garden Mix/Super Loam (a mix of compost and loam) sells for $30/yard and $35/yard, if delivered.
The operation offers a wide range of services, including large bulk product sales, onsite loading, and delivery. Collection services for manure pick-up are also provided. Additional services include: bark mulch installation; lawn installation; lot clearing; tree work; excavation and site work; drainage and septic work; and carpentry. The operation also sells firewood, horse and mulch hay, as well as stone and concrete.
In 2012, sales of the Always Something Farm Garden Mix/Super Loam increased to 500 yards (from 60 yards in 2011) and sales of compost were similar. In three years business has tripled in size. A mid-term goal for the farm is to increase compost production and sales at least 25%, from 500 yards per year to 3,000 – 5,000 yards per year and to expand revenues from tip fees through expanded collaboration with municipalities and landscapers, as well as explore expansion of feedstock and compost recipe development to include food scraps from supermarkets, food production operations, etc. with the goal of increasing inputs and allowing for additional tip fee opportunity and increased revenue.
During the compost marketing project the farm operator developed a professional appearing website and began sending out letters to surrounding towns about working with them to take their resident and municipally generated yard trimmings, and potentially food scraps in the future. The operation is also planning to conduct outreach to commercial food generators and local haulers for composting.
Amend Organics accepts and processes agricultural material, including manure, produce discards, and silage, along with wood chips, food scraps, compostable packaging, soiled paper, yard trimmings, brush, and leaves. The company collects approximately 80 cubic yards of horse manure and bedding each month from a local horse operation, as well as an average of 20 cubic yards of manure from a dairy operation. Leaves are collected from the Town of Amherst leaf pile. A fee of $35 to $90 per hour is charged for manure collection, depending on whether materials are loaded by Amend Organics or by the generating farm operation. Amend Organics also has a food scraps collection program at the Town of Amherst Transfer Station; a per bag fee is charged to residents participating in the program.
In 2013, 150 gallons (~ 900 pounds) of vermicompost was harvested. The material will be tested, bagged, and marketed for sale in early 2014. Greenhouse planting trials in fall 2013 will be done to test and promote the product. Short term plans include: test and explore packaging options for harvested vermiculture for market sales beginning in early 2014; market and sell cured compost in early spring 2014; initiate aerated-static pile method in fall 2013 to accelerate decomposition of collected organics in order to produce more volume of sellable product sell for the 2014 growing season; and increase outdoor vermiculture plots from 4000 square feet to 7000 square feet.
During the project the operator developed a website, signage, and training information for his collection services. The operator also started a Facebook page.
Approximately two-thirds of the compost produced by Aquidneck Farms is used as a soil amendment on farm fields for hay and silage production. The remaining compost is sold in the local community. The first load of compost was sold in April 2010 (200 yards), and sales have continued to grow since.
Bulk compost is sold both on-farm and delivered. Refillable two-bushel totes for compost are available for purchase at the farm store. Farm personnel will load compost into the totes for customers; bulk compost can also be loaded into customer vehicles. Delivery of bulk compost is also available for a nominal fee. Compost is sold for $35 per cubic yard.
The farm compost operation grossed approximately $22,000 in 2012. Primary customers include commercial landscapers and estate gardeners, along with regular farm customers. Bulk product is screened to order.
Through the project, NERC provided the operation with information on pricing, packaging labels, and strategic targeting of potential markets, including vineyards. The farm designed simple packaging to hold down costs, be attractive, and meet the needs of customers.
Cobblestone Valley Farm
Cobblestone Valley Farm compost is certified acceptable for use on organic farms. Cobblestone Valley produces a mulch product, a fine compost, and a premium high-end compost product. Compost products are sold by bulk onsite. Compost is priced by the yard at $40 (a full-size pick-up load is about a yard). Future goals include: Continue to develop and sell a consistent premium compost product; work out an arrangement with City of Cortland to backhaul compost when leaves and brush are delivered; locate additional off-farm carbon sources; and investigate the costs and benefits of bagging compost and alternative packaging models.
Through the project farm operators established a relationship with the town of Cortland to bring leaves to the operation for added carbon materials for compost product and began discussions with the town to purchase compost.
Collins Compost is sold by bulk and in bags direct from the farm and in retail stores around the region. In addition, finished compost is used onsite for crop fields. Bulk compost product is sold for $30 a cubic yard, with a 1/2 yard minimum per order, and is available for pick-up at the farm. The farm operators will load the compost into trucks. Bagged compost is sold in 40 pound bags available for $7 each at Powder Hill Farm store. Delivery service for bulk or bag orders is provided. Collins Compost partners with a carpentry business to sell raised garden beds. Promoted as “the perfect companion to Collins Compost”—raised beds are excellent for gardening in small spaces or in areas with poor soil. The farm grosses approximately $75,000 per year. A short-to-mid-term goal for the operation is to increase production from 2,500 cubic yards each year to 5,000 cubic yards per year and expand the bagging operation and increase retail bag sales, especially focusing on development of more winter market sales.
During the project, Collins Compost focused on utilizing local retail outlets for marketing and sales; designed an attractive product package label; improved the design of their website to be more attractive and user friendly, and started a Facebook page with regular posts, a good use of pictures, product promotions, compost uses, organic gardening tips, events, and more.
Devine Gardens operates a vermicompost (worm composting)) operation on its farm. Farm land is leased to a farmer to raise cattle and pigs. This arrangement provides some revenue for the farm operation along with a guaranteed feedstock for the vermicompost operation. Devine Garden vermicompost is sold at several retail outlets in Central New York. The Devine Gardens also sells its packaged product at the Central New York Regional Farmers Market in Syracuse, the Cazenovia Farmers Market, and through e-commerce on the Devine Gardens website. In addition, the product is marketed at numerous festivals and garden shows.
Vermicompost pricing is as follows:
• 1 quart bag sells for $3
• 16 quart box sells for $15
• $250 per cubic yard
• Bulk sales and delivery by the yard is available, rates based on location
Devine Gardens also sells composting worms for customers to start their own vermicompost bin. Composting worms are sold through the Devine Garden’s website:
• 1 pound of red wigglers sells for $29 + shipping
• 1/2 pound red wigglers sells for $15 + shipping
In its first three years of operation, sales increased 60%. In 2012, product sales were just under $3,200. Inventory in each of these years has sold out. Devine Gardens is manufacturing compost and vermicompost with the intention of offering a diversity of products for sale. Future plans include: sales of compost beginning in the spring of 2014; ongoing and expanded sales of vermicompost and increasing customer base; expansion of product line to include a mixed compost and vermicompost product; quadrupling of production capabilities in 2013 will contribute to corresponding increases in vermicompost inventory in the next few years.
During the project, the Devine Gardens proprietor began researching and testing appropriate packaging to meet the needs of customers and best present the vermicompost product in a practical and utilitarian manner, through use of biodegradable boxes for earth friendly packaging and effective use of labeling. Established a presence at garden shows, farmers markets, festivals, and other events to achieve greater visibility, as well as offered helpful advice and handouts about composting and gardening. Development of an extensive website in 2011 and heavy use of the website to promote product and e-commerce, as well as using the website as an educational tool for selling compost to meet targeted customer needs with information on vermicompost and its benefits, along with information on Devine Gardens and the specific benefits and quality of Devine Gardens’ vermicompost. To help drive traffic to the website, Devine Gardens conducts a quarterly contest (from entrants on Devine Gardens’ website). Winners may choose between a 16-quart box of Devine Gardens’ vermicompost, a 1/2 pound of composting worms, or a t-shirt. The proprietor also speaks with garden centers and other retail settings to determine their requirements for carrying the Devine Gardens’ product, educating staff on the product, and working with the centers for effective promotion. A Devine Garden’s Facebook page was started in January 2013.
Fern Hill Compost
Due to the economics of trying to operate a compost business and make a livable wage, founder and owner of Fern Hill Compost, Peter Spalding, took on a full-time off-farm job in 2012. As a result, the off-farm manure collection service was halted at the end of April 2012; on-farm manure and bedding is still being composted. The compost operation is managed on the weekends selling bagged product wholesale to preferred accounts and bulk product retail. Mr. Spalding hopes to once again operate Fern Hill Compost on a full-time basis in the near future.
Fern Hill Compost products include:
• Bulk compost
• Bagged compost in 1 cubic feet, 35 pound bags
• Premium select compost, 7 liter bag
• Value pack: Two, 7 liter bags
Packaged product, in two different sizes is sold through the Fern Hill website and through retail outlets and a regional farmers market. Bulk purchase is offered, along with delivery at $1 per mile; a 3-cubic yard minimum order is required for delivery. The Fern Hill proprietor sells packaged and bulk product at the Central New York Regional Market in Syracuse. Fern Hill compost is also marketed through other local farmers markets, garden centers, hardware stores, and retail outlets.
During the project and first two years of operation, the Fern Hill operator researched and tested appropriate packaging to meet the needs of customers; researched area compost products, how sold, pricing, etc. and developed an excellent label and packaging that provided customers with appropriate information about his compost product, including benefits, material analysis, use, etc. Fern Hill used effective word-of-mouth to promote the product and established a presence at garden shows, farmers markets, festivals, and other events to achieve greater visibility. A Fern Hill Facebook page was developed in 2011 with regular postings and use of Twitter. The Fern Hill Compost website, established in March 2011, is used effectively as an educational tool for selling compost and to meet targeted customer needs; specific information on Fern Hill Compost and its specific benefits, and uses of compost, including good use of customer testimonials, pictures of plants grown with compost, compost analysis of Fern Hill Compost, successful use of e-commerce for product sales, and posting of farmers markets and retail outlets for product availability. The proprietor also developed a list of local garden centers and began paying sales calls to market material and inquire about getting product into the retail settings; compost samples, ballpoint pens (with company information on it), business card, and ordering information were handed out.
Holiday Brook Farm
Holiday Brook Farm produces 1,500-2,000 cubic yards of finished compost, plus 2,500-3,000 cubic yards of soil mix. The soil mix is a 50/50 blend of the farm’s screened compost mixed with good quality, local topsoil/loam and a little sand to help with drainage. “Screened Grindings,” a recently added product line, is made from composted wood grindings. The product is marketed as black mulch for gardens. The majority of product is sold in bulk. A small percentage of compost product is also bagged; local high school students are hired to do the bagging by hand. The farm store also has a line of five-gallon buckets filled with compost for sale; to promote refilling of buckets, a deposit is charged to encourage customers to return the bucket and purchase more compost. Compost and the 50/50 soil mix are both sold at $40 per cubic yard. About one-third of the commercial side of the business was down in 2010 and 2011, although sales improved in 2012. In recent years all inventory of finished compost and compost products had sold out by the end of the season.
Some revenues from the compost operation are generated through charging “tip fees” to generators bringing in materials for composting. Tip fees are charged to landscapers delivering leaves and brush, as well as to Big Y Supermarket. Services provided include loading and delivery services (six cubic yard and 15 cubic yard loads), along with collection services for manure.
During the project Holiday Brooks Farm redesigned its website (2012) with a more professional and appealing design, focusing on the strength of the farm’s high quality diversified products. The website is used effectively as a customer education tool, presenting the benefits and uses of compost. As a compost marketing tool the website offers an excellent overview of the compost operation, farm produced compost products, and product prices.
Mayval Farm has a business goal of diversifying its farm operations. The farm recently began to undertake an expansion of its dairy products sales with a newly built creamery to produce additional farmstead dairy products—cheese, yogurt and creamline milk. The farm diversification goals also include increasing the production and marketability of its compost. Finished compost is used on the Mayval farm fields to increase field fertility. Compost product is also sold in 40 pound bags for $6 per bag and by bulk for $35 per cubic yard. Product is sold only through direct farm sales.
In 2011, the farm sold approximately 30 cubic yards, at about $35 per cubic yard bulk or $6 per bag. The farm grossed approximately $900 through compost product sales.
During the project, compost operators focused on developing a more consistent, marketable product, including increasing monitoring of the compost process, temperatures, etc. Compost was promoted primarily through its regular farm customers.
The finished Newland Farm Compost is marketed as a rich, dark soil conditioner that adds vital organic matter and nutrients to regular soil. Products include screened and unscreened finished compost as well as a premium screened loam/compost mix. Compost has been marketed locally and in some direct retail sales. Approximately 60 percent of the current product is sold through three wholesale operations. Tipping fees of $25-$30 per ton are charged to generators (excluding the Town of Norton). The farm provides loading and delivery of finish compost. It can deliver 10-20 cubic yard loads and will hire subcontractors to haul 40 cubic yard deliveries.
During the project a Facebook page was developed.
Stone Hill River Farms
Stone Hill River Farms, compost operation began in 2010. The operation charges a container rental and collection service fee of $250 per 30-cubic yard dumpster is charged (prorated for the smaller dumpster). The farm owns four, 30-cubic yard dumpsters and one, 20-cubic yard dumpster. Compost is sold by bulk and loaded onsite using a front loader or delivered using a roll-off truck.
Arrangements with the Town of Bedford to purchase finished compost have been successfully made. Both wholesale and farm direct sales are offered. Product is sold wholesale for $45 per yard, plus $8 per yard for delivery. Customers who purchase more than 100 yards are given a discount. In its third year of operation, the farm sold out of its finished compost in July. The farm is leasing an additional 30 acres to expand the compost operation over the next few years.
Related services offered by Stone Hill River Farms include stump removal, excavating and trucking, firewood sales and delivery, and retail and wholesale screened topsoil. The farm is leasing an additional 30 acres to expand the compost operation over the next few years. The goal of the Stone Hill River Farm operator is to have enough incoming compost feedstock materials to produce 1,000 yards of finished premium compost product annually. The operator would also like to expand into offering equipment rentals, such as compost spreaders, along with sale of various compost products. Continuing to expand services into excavating, landscaping, delivery, and collection is another ongoing component of the farm business.
During the project, the Stone Hill River Farms operateor explored services and products to supplement and enhance compost operation; reached out to landscape professional connections and connections in local communities as a potential source of leaves and brush, as well as potential customers; and capitalized on word-of-mouth opportunities through connections with horse operations and with excavation businesses.
Tripp’s Dairy Farm
Tripp’s Dairy Farm sells a screed compost soil blend product. Product is sold primarily in bulk to retail customers. The farm operators will load material for onsite purchase or deliver product. Some material is sold in bags. The farm also sells aged cow manure. The customer base includes gardeners, home owners, agricultural producers, landscapers, and construction projects. Sales for large development projects have improved in the past year; primarily for road building. A significant portion of sales also goes to haulers and landscapers who backhaul material once their organics loads are dumped at the farm. Compost products currently sell for $15 per cubic yard.
There is opportunity for expansion of Tripp’s Compost products into soil manufacturing, agriculture, landscaping, and construction projects. Additional goals for the operation include: sell more product at a minimum of $20 per cubic yard; explore through marketing analysis what people are willing to pay for compost product; and explore options for additional feedstocks to expand the operation, improve recipe development, and increase compost production.
During the project, the farm operator focused on improving development of his compost product and on development of outreach to large development projects, landscapers, and haulers.
- Case Study_Amend Organics
- Case Study_Aquidneck Farms
- Case Study_Collins Farm
- Case Study_Devine Gardens
- Case Study_Tripps Dairy Farm
- Case Study_Fern Hill Farm
- Case Study_Holiday Brook Farm
- Case Study_Mayval Farm
- Case Study_Newland Farm
- Case Study_Always Something Farm
- Case Study_Cobblestone Valley Farm
- Case Study_Stone Hill River Farms
As cited above (Milestone Three), nearly 400 CD Resource Toolkits were distributed to workshop participants and agricultural specialists (for distribution to additional farm beneficiaries) and SARE representatives. Additionally, NERC received funding from the Stokes Foundation to compile and distribute 300 CD Resource Toolkits containing hundreds of manure management, composting, and compost marketing resources. These CDs are being distributed primarily in Massachusetts, but others parts of New England as well, to farmers and farm assistance organizations. Numerous blog postings, calendar listings, request for list serve postings, and press releases were also distributed.
The outreach strategies and use of CD Resource Toolkits proved to be low cost and substantially effective for producing desired project outcomes. Website downloads of project documents and workshop presentations continue to be popular and will be available on the NERC website for ongoing access. Several other websites have linked to the documents as well.
NERC Email Bulletins (distribution 680):
March 2010 – Make Your Compost Product Work for You! FREE Compost Marketing Workshop/Field Days (http://www.nerc.org/news-and-updates/nerc-bulletin/march-2010/?showyear=2010)
June 2010 – Making Your Compost Product Work for You! (http://www.nerc.org/news-and-updates/nerc-bulletin/june-2010/?showyear=2010)
June 2010 – Compost Marketing Web Page Posted (http://www.nerc.org/news-and-updates/nerc-bulletin/june-2010/?showyear=2010)
July 2010 – Organics & Fertilizer Resource Document Updated (http://www.nerc.org/news-and-updates/nerc-bulletin/july-2010/?showyear=2010)
December 2010 – FREE Compost Marketing Workshop/Field Day (http://www.nerc.org/news-and-updates/nerc-bulletin/december-2010/?showyear=2010)
January 2011 – NERC’s First Compost Marketing Workshop in New Jersey (http://www.nerc.org/news-and-updates/nerc-bulletin/january-2011/?showyear=2011)
March 2011 – Ebulletin and NERC Home page: Free Compost Marketing Workshops Offered in New Hampshire & Massachusetts (http://www.nerc.org/news-and-updates/nerc-bulletin/march-2011/?showyear=2011)
March 2011 – Two Previous NERC Workshops on Compost Marketing Training Well Attended (http://www.nerc.org/news-and-updates/nerc-bulletin/march-2011/?showyear=2011)
May 2011 – Compost Marketing Workshops a Success with Participants (http://www.nerc.org/news-and-updates/nerc-bulletin/may-2011/?showyear=2011)
May 2012 – Compost Operations and Marketing Training (http://www.nerc.org/news-and-updates/nerc-bulletin/may-2012/?showyear=2012#composttrainingmay12)
December 2012 – Farm Compost Visits Provide Marketing Insights (http://www.nerc.org/news-and-updates/nerc-bulletin/december-2012/?showyear=2012#compostmarketsdecember12)
March 2013 – Farm Compost Marketing in Rhode Island & New Hampshire (http://www.nerc.org/news-and-updates/nerc-bulletin/march-2013/?showyear=2013#farmcompostmarketingmarch13)
September 2013 – Farm Composting in Massachusetts and New York (http://www.nerc.org/news-and-updates/nerc-bulletin/september-2013?showyear=2013#innovativefarmcomposting)
December 2013 – Compost Marketing Case Studies and Other Resources (not published prior to final report, see attached)
NERC Blog (http://www.nerc.org/news-and-updates/blog/nerc-blog/) Project Articles
January 15, 2013—Farm Compost Marketing Insights
March 12, 2013—Farm Compost Marketing in Rhode Island and New Hampshire
October 15, 2013—Case Study: Marketing On-Farm Compost Devine Gardens
October 21, 2013—Fern Hill Compost – Compost Marketing Case Study
November 19, 2013– Composting in New Hampshire – Always Something Farm
Additional Media Articles:
• December 30, 2010 (for January 2011 workshop) – Article in the Allentown Examiner (New Jersey), “Organic and sustainable agriculture event in Princeton,” included information about the Compost Marketing Workshop
• March 24, 2011 – Massachusetts Farm and Market Report, Extras – Workshop announcement
• February 2011 – New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse, and Recycling NYSAR3 Quarterly Newsletter article (The Network) – “New York Workshop Provides Compost Marketing Training”
• Friday, 30 September 2011, Progressive Dairyman – “Make your compost product work for you”
• Numerous blogs, county extension and government pages, and calendar listings for all workshops were posted on the SARE Website, NOFA, and other agricultural Websites
NERC project resources website postings/links:
• Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection—Commercial, Institutional, and Agricultural Composting and Organics Resources
• Cornell Waste Management Institute Links of Interest
• Florida FORCE (Center for Organics)
• March 10, 2012, Lancaster Farming, Northern Edition, “Composting Workshop March 26 in Mass.”
• March 1, 2012—Massachusetts Farm and Market Report, Extras – Workshop announcement
• Various NERC Facebook page postings and Technical Assistance Farm Visit photos added
As noted in the Milestones the workshop/field days were very successful and received universally positive reviews on the verification questionnaire, along with feedback received from participants. Participants and presenters included a wide mix of farmers, agricultural specialists, private sector and public sector compost operators, state and municipal representatives, nonprofit organization representatives, and others.
Additional Project Outcomes
Impacts of Results/Outcomes
The workshops and the Toolkit were designed to include aspects pertinent to compost marketing including best management practices for compost operations, market plan development, sales strategies with the goal of providing the tools to help farmers: 1) explore composting as a value-added product to support their current business operation; 2) understand the importance of quality control and compost recipe develop; 3) learn how to acquire the necessary permits to operate and market compost in their state; 4) explore potential feedstocks and pricing structures; 5) develop marketing and sales strategies to effectively meet local and regional demand; and 6) develop and implement a compost marketing plan.
In order to promote the project field days/workshops, contact lists of thousands of farmers were compiled for New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New Hampshire, prior to the workshops in each state. It was difficult to find specific listings of farm compost operations, although when found these operators were added to the contact lists. Horse and livestock operations, as well as general farm operations, from each participating state were included. Web searches, listings from compost operation sites (including Cornell and BioCycle compost directories), along with listings or directories from community supported agriculture websites and organizations, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), Agricultural Extension, State Agricultural farm directories, organic grower organizations, and similar websites were consulted. State agricultural agencies and agricultural support organizations from around the Northeast were also incorporated in the contact lists. These contact lists and associations are still used by NERC to promote organics management and composting information and events around the region.
The success of the workshops held in all states indicated the outreach strategies used for the project were highly successful. Email outreach, web postings, use of agricultural list serves, press releases and other forms of outreach to promote the workshops proved effective at reaching farmer beneficiaries, as well as leading to multiple postings by agricultural specialists and farm advocacy groups interested in promoting farmer opportunities to their email listservs, websites, and blogs. This proved especially effective in New York and Massachusetts where farm organizations are particularly active. Additionally, Team Members and agricultural specialists in New York and Massachusetts are more active in promoting composting as a viable component of whole-farm systems. Their outreach proved to be more targeted to compost operators.
In New Jersey the project Agricultural Specialist/Peer Expert Team Members included in NERC’s proposal were contacted repeatedly about working on the compost workshop in their state; however they did not respond or assist in the project. The NOFA organization in New Jersey was supportive, and proved to be instrumental in assisting in the development, organization and outreach of the workshop. Additionally, Michael L. Westendorf, Ph.D., PAS, Extension Specialist in Animal Sciences, Rutgers University, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection staff, and Erich Bremer, Supervisor of the Organic Certification Program for New Jersey Department of Agriculture actively participated in formation, promotion, and implementation of the New Jersey workshop. Mr. Uncles, project Agricultural Specialist for New Hampshire did provide input into development of the New Hampshire workshop, however, retired shortly after the start of the 2011 calendar year; no replacement was hired. The Peer Expert for New Hampshire did not participate in the project; no response was received despite several attempts at communication with him. As with New Jersey, the project Leader worked with the state’s NOFA organization to develop and implement the workshop.
Agricultural Expert responses to requests for speaking at the workshop were favorable for Massachusetts, New York, and New Hampshire. It was more difficult to gather presenters for the workshop in New Jersey. Part of this was due to date conflicts; however, there are fewer compost operations in New Jersey (due to the regulatory environment there) so this also contributed to the lack of support. This workshop was broadened to focus on mulch as well as compost in order to get an appropriate professional speaker from the field. Rutgers Agricultural Experts were also helpful in their willingness to speak at the event.
Substantially more farmer and other beneficiaries participated in the workshops and received the CD Resource Toolkit than anticipated in the original project proposal. Although the workshops were geared toward farmers and agricultural specialists, project Team Members did not want to limit participation to the workshops. Additional participants included private and municipal compost facility operators. The wide variety of participants in the workshops resulted in increased knowledge and a wealth of information shared with all participants during the networking and roundtable opportunities. The knowledge exchanged during the networking and roundtables particularly benefited the farmer beneficiaries, since many of these participants were new to compost operation and marketing. While remaining true to the needs of farmer beneficiaries, this model for open workshops presented an excellent opportunity for farmers to learn from private sector businesses and representatives, as well as from government and nonprofit agency representatives. Participants came from multiple states to attend the workshops (New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Vermont). In addition to the workshop participants, inquiries about the project and resources came from around the country and Canada. Given that little directed outreach was conducted outside of the four participating states for the workshops, plus the large number of participants in the workshops, the need for compost marketing information is clearly apparent.
Responses to the workshop verification questionnaire and additional comments received from beneficiaries were overwhelmingly positive about the benefits of the knowledge and resources received to assist them in creating a viable compost product and marketing success through participation in the workshops/field days and receiving the Toolkit Resources. All presenters were highly qualified and made outstanding presentations. Participants were engaged and especially noted the benefits of the roundtable discussion part of the workshops and the onsite field tours/presentations at compost operations.
On the workshop participant questionnaire, participants were asked: “What marketing skills did you hope to gain from participating in today’s workshop? Did the workshop help you obtain those skills?” Participant responses were overall positive. Critical comments made in the early workshops were considered during the planning for additional workshops in order to better meet beneficiary needs. A sampling of responses follows:
“Meeting other composters, finding and assessing available resources. Yes, it was helpful.”
“Details on developing business from the ground up. The workshop was a little too general.”
“Learn whatever I can about marketing in the composting business. The workshop was extremely informative and helpful.”
“Want to learn more about marketing opportunities and barriers to composters. Yes, the workshop was helpful.”
“Understanding market pricing and packaging (bulk vs. bagged). Yes. There was a good mix of ideas for both large and smaller producers.”
“Ideas for how to marketing during the upcoming transition. Specific marketing strategies and best practices. Stories from other people’s marketing experiences marketing their products. I found the first half of the workshop to be not quite what I was looking for – not enough on marketing. The second half was great and very informative.”
“Awareness about the industry and greater understanding about marketing and value. Yes – good overview of both composting and marketing of finished product.”
“Ideas and contacts to move product – yes.”
“Basic marketing skills – yes.”
“Motivation to think about marketing my compost – yes.”
“Learn something about the issues involved so I can decide if/how to proceed in developing additional product lines for the farm. Absolutely the workshop was helpful.”
“Understanding certain terms, clarifying information I have learned along the way-fact or fiction. Yes! This has been a great relief to learn the facts.”
“Labeling, information for consumer, market info. Yes, workshop was very helpful in this regard.”
“Ideas on sales and helping to make them cost effective. Yes, it was very informative and provided Websites that will be very useful.”
“Outreach; tie-in with our business plan opportunities. Thought it was very good.”
“What are the varieties of raw materials? How do they apply to different markets? How to keep it small-scale and manageable at first? Very much so—excellent balance of macro and micro levels of examining the compost venture.”
“Best appropriate marketing, how to sell, how to price, how to advertise. Yes, I liked the contrast between Bob (marketing from a people perspective) and Peter (marketing from a scientific perspective).”
“Basic costs and numbers pertaining to the industry. Marketing systems. Yes, so interesting – what a great value.”
“Branding, promotion, customer education, plus creating a niche. Yes, very good. Learned a lot about marketing, advertising, creating a marketing plan. Thanks!”
With more than 400 CD Resource Toolkits distributed, the Toolkit proved to be a low-cost and highly effective tool for transmitting numerous resources, allowing for multiple copying and distribution of the resources. In speaking with agricultural specialists who attended the workshops, many expressed interest in using the knowledge from the workshops and the CD Resource Toolkit to further compost marketing knowledge in their area. Agricultural specialists, in particular, spoke highly of this tool as they could make multiple copies at low cost for their constituents.
Additionally, NERC’s website document postings have been effective in providing the project resources to thousands of other beneficiaries at no cost. These website postings continue to be downloaded and will continue in the future. NERC was also able to leverage project resources for a Stokes Foundation project to promote manure management, composting, and compost marketing in three additional workshops with more than 100 participants and production of 300 additional Resource Toolkits.
Due to the popularity of the workshops, NERC staff time required for handling logistics and workshop preparation, responding to questions from registrants, conducting outreach to registrants, and follow-up was more than anticipated in the original proposal. Team Members and NERC staff did not want to limit the size of the workshops because of the tremendous educational and training opportunity involved.
One unexpected outcome of the project is that the majority of workshop participants had not been marketing their compost prior to attending and many had only recently started their compost operations or had come to a point where surplus compost was available for off-farm sales (after fulfilling the on-farm needs). Consequently, the workshop beneficiaries expressing interest in technical assistance were not as far along in their compost operation and/or readiness to market material as had been anticipated in the original proposal. NERC staff provided many beneficiaries with advice on their compost operation, recipe and product development, etc., however, since they were not ready to market materials, most were not included in the technical assistance component of the project. This contributed to limiting the number of onsite technical assistance consultations conducted to under the goal of 25.
Sixteen of the beneficiaries receiving technical assistance had a viable compost product. Of these, fourteen conducted at least some marketing of their compost product after participating in the workshops and receiving on-farm consultation in market plan development. Technical assistance for the operations producing a compost product for sale concentrated on developing a marketing plan, refining their product presentation, suggesting additional marketing strategies, and expanding their product sales to a wider customer base.
One beneficiary receiving on-farm consultation was quite successful in their marketing efforts, so a marketing plan was not completed for the operation. Four of the beneficiaries receiving initial on-farm consultations were in various stages of producing compost, with the eventual goal of integrating composting into their farm production and selling a viable compost product. These consultations concentrated on offering technical assistance in making general improvements to their compost operation, strategizing on potential feedstocks and revenues from tipping fees, developing a more marketable product and helping beneficiaries to explore how to integrate compost product development and marketing into their overall farm business plan.
Regardless of the beneficiary status in terms of their compost operation, however, the on-farm consultations proved to be an effective means of viewing the compost operation to gather information for the marketing plans and discuss the goals and plans with each farm operator. Additionally, these visits served to spark immediate discussion on ideas for improving the operations and marketing techniques.
Unfortunately two beneficiaries who had successfully improved compost product sales in the first two years following participation in the project had to take fulltime off-farm employment. This obviously limited the amount of time they were able to devote to the farm compost operation. Collection services for offsite feedstocks were curtailed in both operations and production and sales of compost product declined substantially.
In addition to the marketing tools, plans and sales strategies, specific examples of NERC and team member assistance for beneficiaries, included:
• NERC staff has conducted research into a specific marketing niche and regulatory insight for a farm-based mortality compost business. The operators have not marketed the compost but have developed a viable business and produced a quality compost product. Additional business exposure outreach, including a field day and social media usage, were also presented.
• Insight into label and packaging designs for three beneficiaries.
• Suggestions for volume-based compost sales in order to move product more quickly.
• Retail options and tipping fee suggestions, including expanding feedstock solicitations.
• Product presence and presentation at local farmers markets and garden centers.
• Farmers Markets and retail options for compost products.
• Potential feedstock options and tipping fee suggestions, including soliciting leaves from municipalities.
• Use of horse manure for farm-based vermicomposting operation and marketing a “compost-vermicompost” product mix.
• Information on compost quality testing.
• Potential impact on farm compost operations from the proposed Massachusetts regulations banning food scraps from landfill disposal.
• Technical information on enhancing product development, recipe options, operation troubleshooting, and general compost operation information.
No economic analysis conducted.
Farmer beneficiaries varied in their adoption of the compost operation recommendations and marketing tactics and strategies presented in the workshop/field days, resources, and marketing plans. Several of the projects Beneficiaries were just beginning their operation, so embraced fully the recommendations provided. Other Beneficiaries struggled due to their other farm obligations, but implemented at least some of the recommendations. A few of the farmers seemed to have been in the business for so long that adopting a better website presence, Facebook page, or similar tools presented a hurtle that was not easily overcome.
Farmer compost marketing strategies adopted through the project included:
• Developing or redesigning professional appearing websites, including extensive use of the website for marketing both products and services, with good description of products and pricing, along with related services (four farmers)
• Establishing or expanding Facebook and Twitter usage (seven farmers)
• Developing attractive signage on sales yard frontage (one farmer)
• Using business contacts from associates to increase business connections and promote the operation’s products through effective use of “word-of-mouth” (all farmer participants)
• Communicating with local municipalities, landscapers, residents, and organics generators for additional feedstock and potential purchase of product (eight farmers)
• Launching an effective name recognition campaign with brand name its collection carts, trucks, and all signage (four farmers).
• Designing brochures and other information for handout or website posting (eight farmers)
• Promoting products to existing farm customers (eight farmers)
• Using attractive product packaging labeling and providing appropriate information on the compost packaging label – benefits, material analysis, use, etc. (six farmers)
• Utilizing local retail outlets for marketing and sales (seven farmers)
• Using “companion marketing” with sales of built raised beds to promote use of compost for incorporation in raised bed soil mix (one farmer)
• Establishing a presence at garden shows, farmers markets, festivals, and other events to achieve greater visibility (four farmers).
• Offering helpful advice and handouts about composting and gardening (six farmers)
• Speaking with garden centers and other retail settings to determine their requirements for carrying product, educating staff on the product, and working with the centers for effective promotion (three farmers).
• Outreach to landscapers and residents about the benefits of bringing leaves and yard trimmings to the site for composting (five farmers)
• Capitalizing on word-of-mouth opportunities through connections made through previous business expertise and experience (five farmers)
• Targeting new market segments (all farmers)
• Investigating organic certification options for targeting organic growers (three farmers)
Areas needing additional study
10. Areas Needing Additional Study
With the growth of composting around the Northeast, especially for food scraps, along with an increasing regulatory environment requiring diversion of food scraps, farmers can play a growing role in meeting the need for additional compost infrastructure in the region.
Additional areas of study needed:
• Increasing food scrap collection and incorporation into farm compost operations—regulatory requirements, operation requirements, best management practices
• Increasing the knowledge base for compost use and applications—targeting agricultural specialists and farm operators
• Increased market penetration for compost operations—how to manage diversified farm operations for sustainability and effective farm management
• Compost operation promotion—being a friendly neighbor, overcoming NIMBY, best management practices for compost operation