In 2005, Stemilt Growers partner Kyle Mathison decided the company needed to recycle, and so he started a compost farm.
The idea behind the project was to take all the recyclable waste from Stemilt’s operations and turn it into usable compost, rather than simply truck it to the local landfill in Wenatchee, Wash. There, it eventually turns into fertilizer that feeds more than 1,000 acres of company orchards, the company says.
“On that farm, one of the things we do is take all the green waste and bad apples out of our plant and take it all to the compost facility,” said Roger Pepperl, Stemilt’s marketing director. “We also take our bad pallets and grind them up and send them up there. So, what we’ve done is reduced almost all the waste in our plants. We send hardly anything to the landfill anymore.”
Thanks to the compost program, 200 truckloads of green waste that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill are put to productive use, Pepperl said.
“Most of the compost stays near the facility and goes to the orchards nearby, so it reduces the amount of transportation needed for it,” he said.
It’s part of a plan that, due in part to the luck of location and part to careful planning, gives Stemilt an ability to be among the greenest produce companies in the U.S., Pepperl said.
“Most of central Washington is on hydro power, and we’re not using fossil fuels in our plants,” he said. “We do use a fair amount of diesel in the orchards and to bring the fruit out East, but, even then, we do it efficiently.”
The composting program is a big step in the company’s sustainability efforts, Pepperl added.
“The orchards are higher density,” he said. “You’re getting a reduction of orchard land in Washington in acreage, but you’re getting an increase in production. I see the crop getting bigger and the amount of land getting smaller, which is reducing the amount of diesel fuel needed. The plants are getting more and more sustainable. And, obviously, the amount of organic products, which don’t use any synthetics in applications.
The 23-acre compost farm has proven so successful that the company opened up to the Wenatchee community in 2010.
“We’re taking waste out of the city,” Pepperl said. “We have a station downtown where we can take landscape waste and from individuals. You can bring your waste to us for a reduced price over the dump. We grind everything there and take it to our compost facility.”
There’s another benefit, Pepperl said.
“It’s good for the trees,” he said.