Compost Happens

The Winona Farm has a compost site, which operates with no tax dollar support. Every day, from sunrise to sunset the farm is open for business. In a world of change this farm is in an ideal location to demonstrate the use of the city's waste materials. Instead of using potentially toxic fertilizers the Farm uses only compost and biochar to enrich it's fields. After just one application of compost on our hayfield we almost doubled the volume of hay the following year. The yeild has declined over the years since the compost was applied and we will soon test a patch with compost combined with Biochar. If all we have read about the amazing power of char to enrich the soil is correct this application should increase the hay yeild for many years to come.

When the winter manure is spread directly on fields a high percentage of the nutrients are washed or leached away, thus polluting instead of benefiting. All cities and most rural areas have high carbon materials, such as sawdust, bark, leaves etc., which are often wasted. Winona residents and industries have the opportunity to bring these items to The Winona Farm remaining a part of the cycle. Composting these materials ties up the nutrients in the horse and cattle manure in a steadily available form, similar to a slow release fertilizer. Local institutions waste food also become a part of the cycle, as they are fed to pigs whose manures become a part of the compost pile. Unfortunately some businesses and schools still send their left over food to the landfill site where the nutrients are removed from the cycle and risk causing pollution.

We feel that this is an economically fair, educationally enlightening, environmentally friendly compost system, with users paying for our service and products. Every town and city needs one or many farms nearby where those who want can still feel part of the land. No community can even think of being "sustainable" without a direct connection to a farm. We like to feel feel that The Winona Farm is Winona's Farm, somewhat like a public library, where anyone can feel free to take part in whatever activities are taking place. It's great to see our regular visitors watch out for The Farm as though it was their own and that is how we want them to feel.

We strive to demonstrate the bond that can develop between a community and a farm. So many parents and grandparents have told us how the young kids will announce when they finish mowing or raking, "now we can go to The Farm!". A compost site is not often a place where local citizens would not take visitors, but many locals bring their children, grandchildren and out of town visitors to The Farm.

This isn't a petting zoo, but if you are here when we are bottle feeding calves, collecting eggs, or grooming the horses, you are welcome to take part. Also many of our goats and sheep are tame and enjoy being petted, so if they are agreeable, feel free to make friends with them.

The pigs, (who live on the pile in spring, summer and fall) root through the pile and give visitors a chance to see what happy hogs can do with their snout. They eagerly check the grass clippings through the growing season, then the discarded vegetable plants and waste fruit from local people's fruit trees, which they recycle as the city people watch.

In late fall the pigs are moved back to their hoop building, and the mountain of leaves brought to the farm are spread out across the top of the compost pile. Here is where we put our raund bale feeder and where the Belted Galloway cattle and Yaks spend most of their time in the winter. From here they have easy access to the barn where there is a heated waterer and their minerals, and also where they seek occassional shelter from the weather.

Here on the farm, we heat only with wood, two wood stoves heat the house and a wood stove is used to heat the farm building where we garage our truck and pressure wash the waste food recycling barrels. The stove in our farm building also heats the water for washing barrles, using a simple method known as "thermosyphon" where the heated water rises up into a water tank and the cooler water returns to the loop in the back of the stove, where it is heated further and continues the syphon. No electricity is needed for this process. We are working on ways to burn excess wood in an air tight furnace to produce charcoal for agricultural uses. This is often called Biochar. Charcoal is an amazing soil ammendment and you can find out a lot more about how it can be used at the website of The International Biochar Initiative.

Another type of manure that can be safely composted is humanure; this resource is generally wasted and often causes pollution of waterways. If improperly treated it can spread disease. The "normal" method for dealing with the by-product of our digestive system is very wasteful of another valuable yet very undervalued substance, water. Few people think about it until the well runs dry. Town water is often treated with chlorine, then in the processing of treating the human-waste to make it safe even more chlorine is used, a lot of electricity is also devoured in this process. Yet society looks upon this as more than just acceptable, most people put the flush toilet up there with food, water and shelter as a necessity. There is an alternative; for information on this subject you can read "The Humanure Handbook" by Joe Jenkins online. His is a rather crude, yet very effective system, with a minimal cash outlay and nothing to go wrong. For the squeamish amongst us there are other more esthetically pleasing methods out there for composting instead of wasting humanure. For information on more high-tech methods go to "The World of Composting Toilets." Urine itself is a valuable resource, so with the use of a Urine diverting system this sterile liquid containing an abundance of trace elements that trees and plants thrive on can be collected. For more information that you ever imagined on the uses for urine check out Liquid Gold the lore and logic of using urine to grow plants.

Dick & Susan Gallien

Back to the main page.