Price Farms Organics creates compost from Columbus Zoo and community scraps

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Price Farms
(From left to right) Tom Price and Joshua Daughenbaugh stand next to a sign at Price Farms Organics on March 14, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

DELAWARE, Ohio — In the early 90s, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency passed a resolution banning yard trimming such as leaves and branches from landfills. With nowhere to dispose of the yard trimmings except the landfill, this spurred Tom Price, fifth-generation owner of Price Farms, to find a solution. This solution was a composting facility.

Now, 26 years later, Price Farms Organics is an EPA-certified Class II commercial composting facility and is considered one of the largest composting facilities in the Midwest.

In addition to its size, Price Farms offers compost collection to nearby communities, is partnered with the Columbus Zoo to accept its animal manure and creates compost blends with nutrient-dense properties for the best-growing results.

“We don’t like to use the word waste because we feel like it has a negative connotation,” said Joshua Daughenbaugh, head of finished landscape sales and grandson-in-law to Price. “Farmers find a solution to what’s going on. We can take what may be viewed as a waste stream and turn it into a valuable resource for our community.”

Price Farms Organics

Dating back to the Civil War, a land grant opportunity for a farm was presented to the Hodge family. Together, with the Price Family, they created the Hodge and Price Farms which spans a total of 400 acres in Delaware, Ohio.

The Hodge and Price families started growing corn, soybeans and hay, and over the years, the farm evolved to raise hogs and milk dairy cows. However, everything changed in 1994 when the Ohio EPA passed the Yard Waste Ban.

The current owner at the time, Tom Price, was already heavily involved with sustainable agriculture in Ohio. He was on the commission for the Ohio State Fair and the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission.

By 1998, Delaware County Commissioners were looking for property to put a composting facility to process yard trimming. Price placed a bid to the commissioners to create a facility on 25 acres of Price Farms and the bid was accepted.

During this time, Price started evaluating his own farming operations. Price, like most farmers, was using his hog manure as a form of soil enrichment. Already having a strong connection to composting, he realized the manure from his hog operation, yard trimmings and food scraps could be used for a commercial composting facility.

“All of those coming together as well as that kind of push from the county for a yard trimmings disposal site led to Tom wanting to start a full-on commercial composting facility,” said Daughenbaugh. “And eventually, the composting facility grew and took off.”

Price Farms
Price Farms composting machines in action on March 14, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

Price Farms no longer has hogs or dairy cows, but it still grows hay and sod. Its main focus is the composting facility which receives roughly 200 tons of organic material, yard trimmings and food scraps a day.

From there, Price Farms has also expanded into landscaping, mixing its finished compost with topsoil to produce nutrient-dense amended topsoils, as well as mulch and stone.

However, the real impact of Price Farms stems from what established the facility in the first place: the need in the local community.

A circular economy

In October 2022, the Ohio Department of Health was looking for an environmentally-friendly program in Delaware County — which includes the northern portion of the city of Columbus — as the county became more densely populated.

The growing number of residents made landfill capabilities limited, said Daughenbaugh, and by composting, residents reduce the methane gas caused by landfills in the area.

Price Farms started working hand-in-hand with the health department to create its bucket program as a way to encourage local compositing.

Through some grant funding, Price Farms provides residents in its solid waste district with a green compost pail. Residents collect food scraps from their kitchens, yard trimmings etc in their compost bail which they can then give back to Price Farms to be composted for free.

Last year, they had roughly 2,000 buckets which amounted to roughly 40,000 pounds of food scraps diverted from landfills.

Situated fairly close to Columbus, Price Farms also provides local community and urban gardens with its nutrient-dense amended topsoil. These amended topsoils provide a healthy alternative for soils that need commercial fertilizers.

“With the development of our area, typically, most of the topsoil is stripped off the land when new properties are built,” said Daughenbaugh. “A lot of the homes and folks trying to put gardens in (live) in really nutrient deficient (areas). So it’s really important to get that compost back into the soil if they’re going to grow anything.”

Price Farm’s nutrient-dense compost blends include the Backyard Café Compost, Leaf & Compost and — its most popular compost blend — Zoo Brew, made from manure, yard trimmings and food scraps from the Columbus Zoo.

Zoo Brew
Price Farms Organics’s Zoo Brew compost blend is made out of animal manure, yard trimmings and food scraps from the Columbus Zoo. (Liz Partsch photo)

Columbus Zoo partnership

The Columbus Zoo started coordinating with Price about sending its manure to Price Farms roughly 15 years ago. From there, the zoo started sending even more organic matter like branches, leaves and even food scraps to the composting facility for processing.

Today, the Columbus Zoo ships 10,000 pounds or 5 tons of various organic matter to Price Farms a day — this amounts to 35 tons a week.

The partnership has resulted in the creation of Price Farms Zoo Brew compost blend which includes “manure and bedding from the Columbus Zoo, horse manure, recycled food, yard trimmings, leaves and coffee grounds.”

After the Zoo Brew compost blend is ready, the zoo buys it back to be used as topsoil for its flower beds and potted plants.

However, one of the most exciting creations to come out of the Zoo Brew compost is what Stoyan Iordanov, horticulture manager at the Columbus Zoo, calls Zoo Brew tea.

Zoo Brew tea
A tub of Zoo Brew tea sits in a greenhouse at the Columbus Zoo on March 26, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

During the two-year process it takes to make the Zoo Brew compost blend, the animal manure in it starts to degrade and produce a liquid. At first Price Farms and the zoo didn’t know what to do with this liquid byproduct. So, they gifted a tub of this liquid to Iordanov in 2020 and asked him to find a use.

Iordanov mixed the liquid with water to make Zoo Brew tea and started applying it to plant roots that were on the verge of dying.

“We had poor soil conditions, poor looking plants, and then in a matter of three or four months, they came out looking gorgeous,” said Iordanov.

The reason why Zoo Brew tea works so well, according to Iordanov, is because in addition to containing nutrients, the liquid has beneficial microorganisms that help the soil by dissolving more of the organic matter and making other nutrients available to the plant.

Essentially, it acts as an organic fertilizer, one that doesn’t contain the artificial chemicals used in typical commercial fertilizers.

Zoo Brew tea
Stoyan Iordanov tests the effectiveness of Zoo Brew tea by comparing the growth of a control plant with no Zoo Brew tea (left) to a plant with Zoo Brew tea (right). The plant with Zoo Brew tea grows more green, healthier looking leaves. (Liz Partsch photo)

Iordanov now keeps a constant tub of Zoo Brew tea in the zoo greenhouse where he works to revitalize the zoo’s plants. Price Farms also sells the Zoo Brew tea as an organic fertilizer for gardens and farmers looking for a healthy alternative.

“It really bolsters (the zoo’s) sustainable goals on getting that material out of the landfill and we can make a good product out of it,” said Daughenbaugh. “It really emphasizes what we talk a lot about, about closing the loop, where a lot of folks will see material as a waste stream or trash, (but can really) benefit from it. (It) ties back into the farmer mindset of nothing goes to waste.”

(Liz Partsch can be reached at epartsch@farmanddairy.com or 330-337-3419.)

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