Ohio man farms the wasteland

From hot dogs to coffee grounds, rotten fruit 
to phone books— it all ends up as compost

DELAWARE COUNTY, Ohio — Waste is a dirty word to Ohio farmer Tom Price.

Owner of the family-operated Price Farms Organics near Columbus, he has become a receiver of every kind of food byproduct, manure and yard trimming. Those products are turned into compost and sold back to community retailers, wholesalers, gardeners and landscapers.

“We don’t call anything waste. Waste is a bad word to me, the neigh-bours and everybody else,” he told a tour from the National Institute of Animal Agriculture.

“I take food and fibre from the surrounding communities and make a new product.”

The 22 acre site has five acres of concrete where piles of new material and ripening mounds of compost are found.

This is a class two compost site, which is highly regulated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and county rule makers.

“We work pretty hard on building a bank account of goodwill with the neighbours,” he said.

Operating for about 20 years, the family employs local people and gets involved in the community to build good relationships.

“Neighbours can put you out of business faster than the health authorities,” he said.

“We are not lily white. This place smells occasionally.”

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He travelled to the United Kingdom to see how agri-byproducts can be composted because no one in the United States was doing this type of recycling at the time.

Working with the EPA, the farm became a closed loop operation.

The sixth generation farming family also raises feeder pigs and develops Holstein heifers over the summer on 285 acres. Their manure gets recycled back into the composting system.

The company accepts about 1,000 pounds of paper per day. It goes into the hog barns, where young pigs tear it to pieces.

“You put a ton of phone books in there and in two or three days there are not two pages together.”

The compost is allowed to work for up to two years to give it a rich black colour. Potential pathogens are killed within three months but under the farm’s marketing plan, slower composting wins the race.

The finished product is sold under brand names like Barnyard Café and Zoo Brew. The latter is made from manure collected from the Columbus city zoo.

Farmer’s Choice is about 90 percent compost and 10 percent limestone fines from a local quarry that wants to get rid of the small slivers of rock. Turf Blend is two-thirds soil and one-third compost.

Any kind of food waste is accepted from local grocers.

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Accepting unwanted produce from grocery stores comes with the problem of sticky labels on every piece of fruit or vegetable. He has tried to convince companies to consider a biodegradable label.

Coffee grounds come from a nearby Nestle’s plant, while Mars, which produces candy and pet food, sends its byproducts in solid and liquid form.

Anheuser Busch also sends un-wanted byproducts to this site.

Coffee grounds come in large burlap bags with nylon stitching. He convinced Nestles to consider cotton because it can be recycled more easily. His next project is to find a use for the burlap bags.

Ohio State University is a major client. During football season an average game brings in about 100,000 fans who tend to leave their garbage behind.

After game day, a crew from the farm collects up to 4,000 pounds of half-eaten hot dogs, sandwiches and popcorn, as well as left-over food from the stadium’s kitchens and box suites. Under the policy of zero waste, the stadium diverts about 95 percent of its garbage from landfills.

The farm hires local correctional institute inmates to sort through the material because it contains as much as 10 percent plastic.

The material is then screened and the final composted product is sold as Stadium Scarlet.

Plastics are harder to recycle so the Price family is investigating a project in which the products are burned to generate heat.

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