KINGSFORD - Besides recycling cardboard and paper products, Trico Opportunities Inc. will be processing discarded leaves and grass clippings to turn into valuable compost.
"We've been working on this with the city of Kingsford, and it seems to be a win-win situation for all involved," said Robert Rafferty, the Trico employee who is spearheading the project.
"Kingsford supplies us with some of their partially composted yard waste. We're practically neighbors, and it saves them making a trip to the disposal site in Quinnesec. We then hand-screen the material for packaging and sale, which will provide the customer with a valuable garden product," he said.
Shown with a compost screen are, from left, Kathy Goodle, Jesse Schaut, Tammy Barnes, Krystal Edison and Ron Wuorinen of Trico Opportunities of Kingsford.
Kingsford City Manager Tony Edlebeck endorses the idea.
"My dad has been a life-long gardener and composter," Edlebeck said. "He taught me the basics of composting."
"The reason the city turns the leaf material and yard clippings, which is part of the composting process, is to reduce the bulk before transferring it - and that saves the city on transportation costs," he said. "I have sent our material to the Michigan State Extension Office for testing, and the results indicate that it's a top-notch soil. Residents are welcome to come to the Public Works Facility to pick some up, but they have to screen it themselves. I think that it's great for a company like Trico to process it and make it more available to the public."
As time goes on, Rafferty would like to develop different grades of compost by mixing manure with the leaves, using worms to process it, or heat-treating the material to ensure that it is free of weeds and disease.
Mike Richards, board member of Trico, sees a great potential from the product.
"I know a guy in Kenosha, Wis., Father Dom, who collects all the duck and goose droppings from the city parks and sells it as a fertilizer that he calls Father Dom's Duck Doo," Richards said. "He's able to fund an entire outreach project with the money he's making from that product."
The main ingredient of Trico's compost are leaves.
Because the trees that produce them have roots that sink deep into the ground, the compost contains a variety of minerals necessary for successfully growing flowers and vegetables. In addition, the organic matter in the compost improves the texture, water retention and fertility of a wide variety of soils, from sand to clay
"We are in the beginning stages of development and plan on having a sale in the spring for the 100 bags (one cubic food) of compost along with perennial plants grown in the compost," said Rafferty, a horticulturist. "And we will be producing more as the weather gets better."
"However, there are so many ways we can go with this project," he said. "I can imagine setting up demonstration gardens around the hard-packed soil that surrounds the Trico facility. By making raised-bed gardens using our compost, we can show people how well flowers and vegetables grow in our soil. We could sell plants to people who come for the soil or make use of the wood shop to produce attractive containers to garden in. The possibilities are endless."
Rafferty is also a Registered Horticultural Therapist who takes a holistic approach to working with people with disabilities.
"If everyone were to spend just a half hour a day outside, gardening or sifting compost, I'm sure their health and well-being would improve," Rafferty said. "If they were to make a salad from the vegetables they are growing and have it at lunchtime, their connection to healthy, nutritious food would increase. Plus, these are activities that lend themselves to volunteerism. Students, members of volunteer organizations or other individuals could gain a better understanding of people with disabilities by weeding, harvesting or preparing food with them."
The mission of Trico is to assist people with disabilities to become better able to live and work independently.
By offering additional product lines to the public, Trico is diversifying the types of jobs that it has to offer its workers, allowing them to acquire skills that, with time, may get them a job that allows them to work independently in the community - a benefit to everyone.
Trico would appreciate any comment on the project.