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Happy International Compost Awareness Week!

by: Jill Richardson

Sun May 01, 2011 at 15:29:23 PM PDT

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Guess what today is? You might guess May Day and, well, you'd be right. But it's also the first day of International Compost Awareness Week! Woohoo! And... you lucky reader of this blog you... yours truly has been hired by the Center for Media and Democracy to blog about it.

To start out our celebration, unfortunately, I have a very sad story to share. You see, yesterday I went to help out in a garden in San Diego. The garden belongs to a man who has undergone a series of surgeries in the past year and while he and his wife love the fresh, homegrown food, he's limited physically as he recovers. So I go over there every now and again to help him out. Yesterday I brought over a bunch of tomatoes, melons, and squash seedlings to plant and, as I entered the garden, I stopped dead in my tracks.

This garden is mostly organic. It's an attempt at biointensive gardening, as described by John Jeavons in his book How to Grow More Vegetables... But there, next to the patch where we were planting the peppers, was a half-full open bag of Kellogg's Amend.

The man whose garden this is, he's a smart guy. We talk a lot, and he's pretty aware of what he's doing in his garden. He probably read the label before purchasing Amend. What's in it? The label says "Ingredients: Blended and screened forest products, composted rice hulls, compost, poultry manure, gypsum." It also says "Quality Organics since 1925." The bag tells how the product should be used in vegetable gardens, and how it is ideal for loosening up clay soil. What it doesn't say is that it's actually made from Los Angeles sewage sludge. You would have no way of knowing that if you read the label. And if you didn't know to look for the term "OMRI Listed" (which means that a product is suitable for organic agriculture) you might think the product is organic.

"Oh god," I said. I told him that Amend was made from sewage sludge. He said the nursery he got it from recommended the product, and he used half the bag on his citrus trees. He was upset that it was made from sewage sludge, and that he had no way of knowing that before buying it. He was upset that he has no way of knowing what the hell he's put on his citrus trees. Sewage sludge can have any number of contaminants in it (and often does). Some, like heavy metals, flame retardants, nanosilver, and certain pharmaceuticals, are almost universally found in sewage sludge, even the treated stuff approved to be used in gardens and farms. Other contaminants, including dioxins, furans, pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, phthalates, endotoxins, and more, are only found some of the time... but since they aren't regulated, a gardener has no way of knowing if a bag of Amend contains them or not. Only 10 heavy metals, salmonella, and fecal coliform are regulated in the most strictly regulated sewage sludge, which is called Class A biosolids.

Ironically, this nasty product, Amend has a very big link to International Compost Awareness Week. International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW, for short) is being put on by the US Composting Council. USCC's board is dominated by companies that sell sewage sludge as "compost," companies like Synagro, A1 Organics, ERTH Products, and others. One of their board members, Jeff Ziegenbein, works for the Inland Empire Utilities Agency and the Inland Empire Regional Composting Authority. The latter organization operates a large sewage sludge composting plant that takes sewage sludge from both Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, composts it, and then sells it to Kellogg Garden Products, the maker of Amend and other sludge-based products, Gromulch, Topper, and Nitrohumus. And if you're a gardener in Southern California, then lucky you! You can find these products for about $5.97 per 2 cubic foot bag in your local gardening stores! And since they don't say "sewage sludge" or even the euphemism "biosolids" anywhere on the bag, you might buy them without ever knowing what's in them.

So happy International Compost Awareness Week, Jeff Ziegenbein. This week, I will be doing my best to help promote awareness of WHAT'S IN COMMERCIALLY SOLD COMPOST PRODUCTS so that unsuspecting gardeners like my friend don't accidentally buy your sludge.

Jill Richardson :: Happy International Compost Awareness Week!
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Glad to see ya got this new gig! (4.00 / 3)
And I'm happy to see you blogging about the sewage sludge issue. It's one reason why I'm keeping the horses. If I have to, I'm going to put in an offer on the two that Harold had so I'll have plenty of horse manure to compost and use on my farm.

The way I see it, I feed the horses local grass hay that wasn't sprayed with pesticides/herbicides and combine those with wood chips. That way I have compost for the farm and I know what the raw ingredients were. I was thinking about how much material there is in Gizmo's roundpen and day yard, how much is in the pen where the cow is, how much the mares, Rocky and Flash are, how nice that material looks right now, and how much it would cost me to purchase that much compost of that quality and all of a sudden buying 15 ton of hay a year, even at $160/ton, starts to look downright economical.....

Now, if I can just get Rocky, Rose and Melor leased out, I won't even have to pay for the hay for half the year.


Normal people scare me.... But not as much as I scare them.

Agreed (4.00 / 2)
Ditto with my chickens. I think I still need more compost than we've got but the chicken poo helps a lot. Of course, now we're getting the straw from a store and composting that and the straw isn't organic, which bugs me, so I'm trying to see if that's been sprayed. But at least I know what the chickens ate.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Well (4.00 / 3)
Just because the straw isn't organic doesn't necessarily mean that could have been sprayed, whether with an herbicide or with an insecticide.

Probably your best bet would be to find out what kind of straw it is (wheat, barley, etc.) and where it came from (depending on where you got it, that may not be possible). To find out what kind of straw it is, look for stray seed heads in the straw. I've never come across a bale of straw that didn't have at least one stray seed head in it. If you find a seed head, take it into the house and rub the head between your hands and let the grains fall into a bowl. Then you can look at the seed to see what kind it is. Wheat and barley will look similar. The wheat seeds will be narrow, the barley will be shorter and fatter. If in doubt, put the seeds into a baggie and take them back to the feed store or where ever you got your straw from and ask them what ya got. If they don't know, you can go to any store that sells bulk grains and compare what's in the bag with what's in the bins.

I'm not sure if wheat and/or barley are sprayed. I know that there's RR wheat, but I don't know how commonly (if at all) it's grown. Couldn't say as to barley. But what you have is probably wheat or barley straw.

It could also be oat straw, if that's the case and you find stray seed heads, they'll look like ginormous grass seed heads. Oats are kind of hard to miss.

Normal people scare me.... But not as much as I scare them.

[ Parent ]
Thanks (4.00 / 2)
I'm not sure what it is but the store where I got the bale should know. I don't think RR Wheat's been commercialized yet.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
nanosilver? (4.00 / 2)
Nanosilver? WTF? I've not heard of that, and I certainly had no idea how ubiquitous it is.

For the benefit of others as ignorant as I am, perhaps you might include some links in the diary.


Silver Nano

Good point (4.00 / 2)
learning about nanosilver was a big education for me this past year. The one that bugs me the most is the washing machine that releases nanosilver into the water w/ each load. BAD!

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Kellogg took down their Amend page! (4.00 / 3)
I wonder if they're running away from the issue?

And that particular product isn't on the OMRI site (anymore?).

Yet, I see it listed in a google search as still being sold at big box hardware stores.

There's all sorts of their products that are listed on OMRI, and even called organic. Since Kellogg never listed sewage sludge on their Amend product label, how can one be sure their new products don't contain sludge? Not that I ever have to buy that kind of stuff.

Kellogg's youtube vid advertising lists the ingredients in Amend, but once again fails to list sewage sludge as one of the contents (they don't even say, 'compost.'  Bad, bad, bad!

Amend (4.00 / 3)
Amend is still there.

There's also something called GARDENERS ORGANIC COMPOST. I wonder what's in that.

[ Parent ]
Hmm (4.00 / 2)
Amend is "Rich in composted organic materials"

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Several of their products ARE (4.00 / 2)
OMRI listed, for real. Amend isn't. But several of their other products are. I think N'Rich is OMRI-listed, for example.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
How legit is OMRI? (4.00 / 3)
They aren't a government entity. I wonder if they are willing to trade endorsement for other things, like money. I remember the fight over allowing biosolids into the organic chain during the drafting of USDA rules, and biosolids lost.  

[ Parent ]
I'm not sure but this is the first I've heard them (4.00 / 2)
questioned. I think they are pretty solid.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
I always thought OMRI (4.00 / 1)
was the gold standard. I thought OMRI were or went off of the USDA mandates for certified organic (not to be confused with the other organic, which is just biological materials).

Normal people scare me.... But not as much as I scare them.

[ Parent ]
OMRI is very legit (4.00 / 2)
OMRI was created by the organic community in the 90's specifically to test claims from farming product manufactures.

OMRI actually has a history of being too harsh on some company label claims; so I personally do not worry about corporate capture of OMRI.

Their reputation is excellent.


[ Parent ]
just what I thought nt (4.00 / 1)

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
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