Happy Farmer Friday!
Meet Peter and Kelly Mahaffy – organic farmers from Oregon and one of the six amazing finalists in our Grant a Farmer’s Wish Campaign. The Mahaffy’s are working with the local seafood industry to turn waste product in the form of crab shells and shrimp husks into nutrient dense organic compost. Here, in Peter’s words, they share the story of their farm and wish for receiving a grant.
My wife and I, along with our three daughters Sienna (5), Ada (3 ½) and Kaia(20 mos.) own River Bend Jerseys, a 200 acre intensive grazing dairy that stretches 2 ½ miles along the Coos River in Southwestern Oregon, 12 miles east of Coos Bay. My grandfather purchased this farm in the 1930’s, and after graduating from college and working for 3 ½ years learning how to intensively graze dairy cows, I returned in 2003 and am proud to be the third generation to milk cows here.
The foundation of the Coos County economy for generations has been its proximity to a protected deep water port and an abundance of natural resources – primarily timber, grass (to support meat and milk production) and fishing (salmon, tuna, oysters, shrimp and crab). Unfortunately, all of these natural resources and the industries they support have been in decline since their peaks. Many saw mills have closed over the past 15 years, salmon runs are inconsistent and significantly diminished, and while grass is still grown and abundant, the number of active dairies in Coos County has shrunk to 16. This contrasts sharply with a county that had the nation’s highest number of dairy farms per capita in the 1920’s.
The survival of the local dairy industry today is largely due to the stability of the organic market, with 14 farms producing organic milk and 7, including my family farm, being members of the Organic Valley Co-op. One of our primary sources of fertilizer is a waste product from local seafood processors in the form of crab shells and shrimp husks. These by-products are incredibly rich in calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, and boron, and our use of this resource redirects a waste stream that would alternately require 150 mile transits to the nearest landfill or barging the product back out to sea. Since we are dependent on seasonal deliveries, and unable to store or process the crab and shrimp product, we typically spread the fertilizer shortly after it arrives, even though that may not be optimal for the pastures. This has resulted in some challenges associated with managing the aromatic unpleasantries of degrading sea products and resultant ire of neighbors who may not fully appreciate the value of employing natural soil building fertilizers in place of synthetic ones.
In order to continue incorporating these products into our farm ecosystem, we are designing a nutrient recycling system which will allow us to move away from the current method of daily spreading and slow decomposition of the crab on the fields during Oregon’s rainy winter months. We recently began construction on a NRCS engineered concrete storage tank with an agitation unit and a manure separator. The agitator in the concrete tank incorporates sunlight and oxygen into a diluted aerobic, oxygenated nutrient source that is mostly free of solids (i.e. grass fiber, shavings, crab shells) which allows photosynthetic purple bacteria to thrive and sequester nitrogen and sulfur along with other nutrients into liquid fertilizer that is highly available to the pastures during the growing season. Solids will be removed through a manure separator that will discharge into a covered, multi-bin compost shed allowing for the dry storage of the solids. The solids will drop out of the manure separator into the first bay and be augmented with the addition of any leftover feed or calf bedding until it is full. The material will then be transferred to the next bay to introduce oxygen and promote further decomposition. When the first bay is filled again, material from the second bay moves to the third, first to second, and so on throughout the year.
We are hoping to receive a Stonyfield grant to assist in constructing a critical component of this system – the covered compost shed. When completed, this biologically stable system will significantly reduce nutrient loss to the atmosphere and eliminate potential leaching of the crab and shrimp waste during the rainy season. Storing the compost in a covered shed will also help reduce runoff into nearby streams and rivers. We are also optimistic that we will be able to greatly decrease or possibly eliminate the odor produced by the decaying crab, allowing us to continue using this product while keeping our neighbors happy.
The end result of this win-win partnership with the seafood industry will be beautiful nutrient dense organic compost ready to be spread on our fields at the optimum time, with surplus available for sharing with family, friends and other gardening projects in our community.
Watch the Mahaffy’s video, hear the stories of all of our finalists, and place a vote to help us grant wishes and support organic farming on our Facebook page!
Photo Copyright Anna Campbell for Organic Valley