Leveraging Biodiversity to Improve Profitablity on a Small-scale Vegetable Farm

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $17,425.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Wild Pansy Farm
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Ann Carnes
Wild Pansy Farm

Information Products

Creating Biologically Active Compost with Ann Carnes (Conference/Presentation Material)


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: manure management
  • Crop Production: biological inoculants, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: compost extracts
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: composting, earthworms, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships

    Proposal summary:

    Our goal is to create high-quality compost from the bedding of our partnering livestock farm, using the Johnson Su Bioreactor model in a production capacity, and to document our methods for use on other farms. Creating compost in this way will lower the cost of inputs, reduce labor, and provide an additional source of revenue for small-scale farms.

        This project applies recent studies for increasing soil biodiversity, taking the research into the field to standardize procedures that fit the realities of a working vegetable farm. We will develop and share on-farm procedures that use the Johnson Su Bioreactor design, and the compost output will be analyzed using the methods of Dr. Elaine Ingham of the Soil Food Web. This approach will reduce costs by replacing potting soil and fertilizers with our own compost. Labor is saved by introducing the compost through tasks the farm already performs: transplanting vegetables, direct seeding, and foliar sprays. It’s an inoculation strategy, not an amendment strategy, so it eliminates the labor needed for large applications of compost. The excess compost will be sold to diversify the farm’s revenue streams and make this practice economically sustainable.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Reduce the cost of inputs for two farms, while encouraging soil biodiversity. 
    2. Develop efficient compost production and application methods that fit the workflow of small-scale farms. Our procedures will be shared in the form of a guide on our website. The guide will include feedstock types, input and output quantities, and the resulting biodiversity for two years of making compost and one growing season. 
    3. Share three educational videos on social media and our website, addressing:

                             1) Workflow set-up and development; 

                             2) Labor and cost-saving application of compost; and,

                             3) How to analyze soil biology on-farm with a microscope. 

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.