Tag Archives: spring field trips

EI Spring Field Trip: Organic Mechanics Soil

(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.

 

EI Spring Field Trip Part 2: UD Chrysler site

(written by Felicia Yu; photos by Ashby Leavell)

In the afternoon following our EI field trip to the Dansko headquarters, Raakel Toppila, Ashby Leavell, Hagley Fellow Chris Chenier, and I paid a visit to the Chrysler site, just across the road from Townsend Hall. We met with Dave Levandoski, director of 1743 Holdings, a UD subsidiary which is overseeing the demolition of the plant in preparation for UD’s new Science and Technology Campus.

Vintage Chrysler office decor

From the safety of his office in the weirdly under-occupied administration building, Dave presented us with a thorough overview of the site and how one goes about recycling a deconstructed car assembly plant. 85% of the material from the demolition is being recycled, with enough revenue generated from the sale of valuable materials such as stainless steel and copper to cover their costs, so that the entire demolition will cost UD nothing. Dave showed us example after example of recyclable materials from the site, from the obvious (steel, aluminum, batteries) to the not-so-obvious (still-working equipment to be reused; fluorescent lighting tubes with their components; solvents and oils from the factory lines, to be sent out for re-refining or to be mixed and used as clean-burning fuels). He also pointed out some materials that cannot be recycled, at least not at this time – the sludge from waste water treatment, and acres and acres of roofing material, sometimes two or three layers deep.

Witnessing the art of demolition…from a completely safe vantage point, of course

At the end of our visit, we were allowed to don hard hats and head down the back side of the admin building, where we were fortunate to get a look at real-time demolition just behind the building. We all agreed that the operators of the clawing tractors, pulling down whole chunks of building into piles of twisted metal and debris, had the best jobs in the world.

Felicia, Chris Chenier, and Raakel rocking the hard hats

Ashby and Felicia with Lynn McDowell of 1743 Holdings

The future of the Chrysler site remains a fascinating vision—while the area has been designated as the Science and Technology Campus, many elements remain to be fleshed out. Will they daylight the brook now running beneath the concrete? How much of the 235 acres now under impervious surfaces (out of 272 total) will be opened up? Will they preserve, and interpret, the old track on which they used to test M-48 tanks built for the Korean War? Well, we’ll have to wait to return as alumni to witness the answers to these questions.

“They should totally film a Transformers movie here.”

Another view from the fence

Thanks to Dave and Lynn for meeting with us and giving us a first-hand look at the incredible process of decommissioning and recycling a whole automobile assembly plant.

EI Spring Field Trip: Dansko Headquarters

(written by Felicia Yu; photos by Ashby Leavell)

Part of the purpose of the Environmental Impact team is to equip the Fellows with a sustainability-focused mindset and the knowledge of how sustainability can be practiced in all kinds of settings, from our normal sphere of public gardens to places of business unrelated to horticulture (or only just barely).

Newly renovated living wall in the Dansko lobby

For our first spring EI field trip on April 18, Ashby Leavell, Raakel Toppila, Kate Baltzell, and I made the short drive to Jennersville, PA, to see the Dansko shoe company headquarters, where environmental sustainability is just a part of an overall philosophy of doing things the right way whenever possible.

Rain chains adorn the exterior of the company store

Our enthusiastic tour guide and director of facilities at Dansko, Daria Payne, led us around their LEED Gold-certified facility and pointed out all the features that contributed not only to a smaller eco-footprint but also to the well-being of the employees. Wherever there was an opportunity to increase the energy efficiency of the building, the multi-use capacity of its rooms, or the quality of the indoor environment, Dansko took it and ran with it. Office furniture and cubicle walls were made to be portable and reconfigurable. “Smart” lighting adjusts automatically to the amount of daylight coming in through the many, many double-paned argon-filled windows. The outdoor landscaping, from three different living roofs to the rain gardens in and around the parking lot, incorporates thoughtful storm water management practices along with capturing and reusing rainwater for irrigation and the building’s toilets.

Daria explaining the features of the new product development space

One of three living roofs; this one includes a patio and shade structure for employee gatherings

Amid all the environmentally friendly features of the campus, the human aspect of the environment is never neglected. Art works from local artists and often made from found materials decorate even the least public areas of the building. A living wall in the lobby and indoor plants everywhere improve the air quality and create a more homelike atmosphere. Enclosed offices and meeting rooms toward the outside of the building have glass walls in order to share the natural light with workspaces in the interior. The company also encourages philanthropy in all its employees by allowing them up to sixteen hours of paid volunteering time with organizations of their own choosing, and the value of their contribution is matched by the company. (Is anyone else starting to feel tempted to put in a job application?)

What was destined for a storage room became a comfortable library for employees at the insistence of Dansko co-founder Mandy Cabot

Our entertaining and enlightening visit ended with—what else—shopping!

How could we not?

Many thanks to Daria and Dansko for a fantastic morning and many lessons learned about running a business profitably AND sustainably.

The group with Daria in the company store. And no, we didn’t arrange ourselves in that order on purpose!