Martin’s Farm Tour: Stop and Smell the Compost?

You already know that the Co-op works hard to compost. We ask you to do it every day in the café and, behind the scenes, we make sure as much of our non-edible pre-consumer food waste goes into our compost bin. But what happens to our compost once it leaves the facility? The Co-op’s Green Team took a tour of Martin’s Farm Compost and Mulch in Greenfield, MA to find out.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and Adam Martin, the owner of Martin’s Farm, burst through the door with lots of energy and off we went. As we briskly walked from the barn to the fields, we could see dozens of turkey vultures flying ahead. “Don’t worry,” Adam said, “They won’t bother us. In fact, there is really nothing here for them to eat!”

The 500-feet long rows of compost left us a bit skeptical, but on closer inspection, we could tell: the compost was close to maturity.

Martin’s Farm has been in operation since 1987 as a family farm. Not only does the Co-op send our compost to Greenfield, but so do dozens of schools and restaurants in the area including UMass Amherst. The farm currently receives around 14 to 15 tons of compost per day but is permitted to take up to 22 tons. Adam noted that they could take more, but he wants to manage it well and be a friendly neighbor.

One primary concern for him is the smell, something we distinctly did not notice. There was no pungent odor that you may expect from a large-scale composting operation. Pipes run along the sides of the compost rows that spray an odor-control solution. Adam does what he can to prevent the smell from traveling to his neighbors.

Other than odor control, Martin’s Farm has a systemized process to compost the waste that is delivered to them (which includes food, paper, and cardboard). The deliveries are sorted for contaminates; any plastics or non-organics are pulled out. Then the large grinder grinds the materials, so the microbes have less work to do.

Once the materials are in rows (which have about 500 yards of material in them), Adam monitors the temperature as they turn the rows to mix in oxygen and create uniformity. Through aerobic digestion, they make sure that the temperature is at least above 133ºF to kill off any weeds, seeds, and pathogens. This turning process happens anywhere from 9 to 13 times over the course of 3 to 4 months, depending on the weather conditions.

Once the beautiful and invisible process of composting has taken place, and all the small decomposers have had their fill, the farm screens the finished and cured compost into a usable soil amendment. Many of the machines used in the screening process have been built and modified by hand to ensure a quality product finds its way to their customers.

This work comes at a time of great importance in America, and especially in the New England area, as some landfills are filling up fast. Massachusetts has six years left before all their landfills are at capacity and the state is working actively to divert any waste it can. The greater New England area has an average of eight years before their landfills have also reached capacity. This looming and largely unaddressed issue is only going to get worse as recycling infrastructure in the US has not risen to meet its needs domestically. Diverting food waste to composting facilities is a cleaner and more efficient method of waste collection that can sequester carbon and re-nourish our landscapes.

Adam Martin impressed us all with his knowledge of composting and his understanding of the current waste issues. He does so much work to balance the needs of the community with the needs of the microbes and decomposes responsible for the composting process. All the work and love done at Martin’s Farm is evident to anyone using the compost for their garden — as they see the bountiful new growth of happy plants.