(written by Felicia Yu; photos by Dongah Shin)
The Organic Mechanics Soil processing facility, complete with industrial found-object landscaping.
On a not-so-unlucky Friday the 13th, Laura Vogel, Rebecca Pineo, Dongah Shin, Ashby Leavell, Raakel Toppila, and I went on our last EI spring field trip for the year, this time to Organic Mechanics Soil in Modena, PA. We met with company founder and president (and former LGP Fellow) Mark Highland, who took us on a tour of the site and shared the story of the company’s beginnings and growth, as well as his own experiences pre- and post-LGP.
Mark Highland explaining the ins and outs of making organic potting soil to the Fellows.
Organic Mechanics Soil, for the uninitiated, is an organic potting soil manufacturer, distributing throughout the mid-Atlantic region. The company has been growing in its reach and success since its foundation in 2006, carrying out Mark’s vision of making the most environmentally sustainable potting soil on the market.
Checking out the soil mixer.
Their soils rely on compost made locally in Chester County to supply water retention, nutrients, and biological activity, rather than on peat, which is nonrenewable and takes a heavy environmental toll for its extraction. Mark also pointed out each of the other ingredients and explained their benefits and how they’ve been sourced as locally and/or responsibly as possible: worm castings, rice hulls from Arkansas and Louisiana (to substitute for perlite when possible), aged pine bark from Delaware, and coconut fiber from India. India, you say? Mark explained that they were careful to choose a supplier with a high quality product, low in salts and chlorides from being washed in rainwater rather than seawater, and which is itself the just leftover dust after the coconuts have been processed for meat, shells, juice, oil, and husks. Shipping the dried, compressed coconut dust by boat is less fuel-intensive than trucking.
An experiment with biochar in the works; behind us are stacks of compressed coconut fiber.
The same intentional approach to sustainability permeates the whole operation, from the worm bin in the office and the employee CSA garden with aquaculture tanks outside, to the close working relationship Organic Mechanics has with Waste Oil Recyclers, the company from whom they lease the site and with whom they share biodiesel for vehicles and equipment.
The employee vegetable garden, with a fish tank to the left. Yum.
As we’ve seen before, being sustainable definitely does not conflict with running a successful business. In its fifth year, the company is already planning its next expansion into a larger processing space, and with recent recognition by Organic Gardening Magazine with its first “Seal of Approval” for organic products, the future looks very bright for Organic Mechanics Soil.
A finished bag ready to go, complete with Organic Gardening’s Seal of Approval.