Earth Care Farm has been selling compost since 1979.
Rhode Island may not be one of the largest states in the country, but its geographic location makes it one of the most nutrient rich. Nestled between the New England mountains and the eastern coastline, the small state of Rhode Island is an ideal place for the production of compost. Michael Merner, founder of Earth Care Farm and Rhode Island’s oldest compost farmer, learned this first hand when he began his compost business in 1979. Since that time he has made a living by utilizing the natural byproducts of the state to manufacture compost for sale to local farms, businesses and homeowners. By continually replenishing the land in harmony with nature, Merner is helping to preserve high soil quality for future generations.
When people think of composting, they often think of large production facilities with enormous screeners and a distinct odor, many of which are operated by townships that collect leaves and brush from local residents. Very few people think of a small, family owned and operated farm producing a finished product that smells like sweet earth with the belief that there’s no such thing as waste in nature.
Earth Care Farms is just that, a small, specialty farm that produces 3,000 cu. yds. of chemical free compost each year. To yield that amount of compost annually, the farm must accept and continually move three times that amount of material, up to 9,000 cu. yds., due to its reduction in volume while maturing. With such a high volume of materials to be moved on their small, 30-acre farm, 3 acres of which serve as their compost footprint, the staff relies heavily on their equipment fleet which includes three wheel loaders, a rented screener, a backhoe and several compact tractors, the workhorse and muscle of the daily operation being their Hyundai HL760 wheel loader.
Merner said that, “Our equipment is indispensable, particularly the Hyundai loader. Without it, we’d need 1,000 people with pitchforks to manually do the work of this one machine.”
According to John Barth, general farm manager, Earth Care Farm takes equipment purchases very seriously because they are so reliant upon it.
“We purchased the Hyundai HL760, 215 horsepower, 39,460 pound, 4 wheel drive loader just over two years ago to help support our growing business and to assist us in moving large amounts of material and mature compost quickly. We owned other loaders at the time, but following some research, the Hyundai HL760 made the most sense for our application. Once delivered, it quickly became my machine of choice.
“The hydraulic response on the HL760 is phenomenal and its econo-mode allows us to save money on fuel without sacrificing performance, while remaining environmentally conscious through lower emissions. With fuel being such a key expense in the manufacture of compost, the econo mode on the HL760 was a huge selling point. In addition, the machine moves quickly. With four forward and three reverse speeds, it can travel up to 21.3 miles per hour, which helps us get more done in less time.”
The Hyundai loader is used daily to move materials dumped at the facility to the large, maturing compost piles. Once the material is moved to the piles, the loader is further used to incorporate the new materials into the piles and to aerate and mix the compost 5 yds. at a time. Every pile is completely mixed and aerated every three weeks. Equipped with a 5 cu. yd. bucket and 30,510 lb. breakout force, the HL760 moves numerous types of material.
“Every day we get a variety of materials delivered to the farm, from leaves and woodchips, to vegetable clippings, to local fish byproduct and seaweed, to zoo manure, to restaurant and food scraps. The diversity of the materials that go into our compost is what makes it so nutrient rich and sought after,” stated Merner.
Not all compost is created equal. Many larger, production oriented compost facilities use just leaves and brush which may be tainted by herbicide residues or sewer sludge, which often contains heavy metals to create compost. These materials have very little nutrient value and are generally low cost. High-quality compost is made from a broad variety of nutrient rich, chemical free materials and is typically twice the price of landfill compost, but you get what you pay for according to Merner.
“The higher the nutrient value in the compost, the higher the per cubic yard price and the greater the yield in terms of growth for crops, flowers, etc. The most unique attribute about the compost produced on our farm is the addition of the marine byproducts from the many fish processing plants in southern New England. The fish byproduct adds a level of fertility to the compost incomparable to any I’ve seen during my 33 years in the business. The soil web and nutrient analysis testing we do support this.”
In addition to moving materials into the maturing compost piles, the Hyundai loader is used to move and load mature compost from the piles into the screener, where any particles larger than 3/4” are removed. Once screened, the mature compost is ready for loading into the trucks of landscapers, garden centers, farmers, gardeners and homeowners as they arrive at the farm.
“We work this loader for a minimum of 40 hours each week. When you depend that heavily on one machine, it needs to be reliable, it needs to be comfortable and it needs to be supported, because when you work a machine that hard, eventually it’s going to need some maintenance. The Hyundai HL-760 met all these criteria.”
Kahn Tractor of North Franklin, Conn., was the dealer who introduced Earth Care Farm to the HL-760 loader. Having owned other loaders, the staff knew what they were looking for and trusted the dealer and its sales representative to stand behind the product.
“The cab on the HL760 is extremely comfortable year round,” said Barth. “Its climate control in terms of air conditioning and heat allow us to work productively on the coldest and hottest days of the year. The cabin air fresh filter is also a nice feature, particularly since the smell of some of the materials delivered before its incorporated into the compost piles can be pretty offensive. Another nice feature of the cab is its wide, tinted and laminated windshield, which has no framing cutting through it, allowing me to see in all directions to easily assess both the terrain and the work to be done.”
Maintenance on the Hyundai HL760 also was well thought out. The loader has easy-to-access service points for routine maintenance and oil changes, as well as an easy-to-access pilot filter, grease fittings, central electric controllers and fuse box and remote drain port. To date, routine maintenance is the only time that the Hyundai HL-760 hasn’t been working on the farm.
When asked why their business continues to grow, Barth said, “Most of our new business comes from word of mouth. When someone’s neighbor sees a garden with plants that are thriving, full of tomatoes or rhubarb that are twice the size as theirs early in the season, they ask questions. The answers to those questions typically result in new customers for our farm. Word of mouth is our only form of marketing.”
Base materials delivered and incorporated into the piles are turned in an aerobically-managed compost system. Each batch of compost takes approximately one year from start to finish. The mature, finished black compost bares little resemblance to the ingredients it was made from, with the exception of little pieces of shellfish, which give Earth Care Farm’s compost a regional uniqueness not found in compost produced inland.
Earth Care Farm was founded by Michael Merner in 1972, with the compost operation starting shortly thereafter. Merner has made his living by allowing local businesses and towns to dump natural waste byproducts from around the state on his farm for incorporation into the chemical free compost that is manufactured.
For more information, call 401/364-9930 or visit www.earthcarefarm.com.
Kahn Tractor is a 64 year old agricultural and construction equipment dealership located in North Franklin, Conn. Some of the company’s leading lines of equipment include Hyundai wheel loaders and excavators, Kubota and New Holland tractors. Kahn Tractor offers sales and rentals of Hyundai equipment as well as full service maintenance and parts.
For more information, call 800/327-5246 or visit www.kahntractor.com.
For more information about Hyundai or Hyundai products call 877-509-2254 or visit www.hceamericas.com.