Composting business sprouts success on Delmarva
Posted: 1:20 pm Tue, November 20, 2012
MILFORD, Del. — Bruce Blessing didn’t have to dig deep to uncover the best soil for a new composting business.
He landed local suppliers anxious to discard yard waste and wood needed to strengthen less-than-ideal soil. Then he added chicken waste from local poultry producers, primarily Salisbury-based Perdue Farms and Delaware’s Mountaire Farms, for more soil value.
It was a blessing, no pun intended. Bruce Blessing’s compost concoction created a new market for controversial chicken manure, while adding protein and value to a special blend that Blessing feeds to flowers and plants at his greenhouse business.
His efforts also have sprouted Blessings Blends, the region’s only known compost manufacturer recognized by the Organic Materials Review Institute, regarded as the nation’s leading independent reviewer of organic production.
Starting in January, Blessings Blends begins to roll out OMRI-listed potting- and flower-seed starting soils across Delmarva for the home gardener.
“The whole purpose is to recycle a waste stream and produce sustainable products that will have a positive impact on ground water, the Chesapeake Bay and the Inland bays,” Blessing said. “OMRI-listed products are a pedigree that is [a consistent] recipe, and produced by stringent guidelines used time and time again. Some products [on the market] are 100 percent organic, but you don’t know what they have come in contact with.”
Blessing, a Milford native, decided on a career in greenhouses and composting after growing up on the family farm that dates back at least a century.
His father, Bill, worked the farm that is now more than 2,000 acres, raising grains, vegetables and beef cattle. Bill Blessing died when Bruce was in high school, and the younger Blessing took on more farm duties.
“I worked at a chicken plant on the night shift, and during the day I went to school,” Blessing recalled. “Then I worked the farm with my cousins and nephews.”
He was introduced to horticulture in a school class, and after graduation, worked the farm full time and built a greenhouse.
“I wanted to find a way to bring in additional personal revenue,” he said.
In less than a decade, Blessing expanded the greenhouse business on a 30-acre parcel off the family farm.
“That piece of property had a greenhouse, and I ended up turning the rest of it into a commercial compost facility,” he said. “I never thought I’d be making compost.”
Blessing’s mother, Stella, is retired, and he runs the business with seven employees and is helped in the greenhouses by two of three children he raised as his own: Brianna, 17, and Caleb, 13. The eldest son, 21-year-old Aaron, lives on the western shore.
“We still have the family farm,” he said. “My cousins run it.”
A milestone was in 2011, when Blessings Blends expanded bulk compost distribution to include green-and-white, bagged-packaged products for area garden centers. The roll-out introduced the brand to the retail segment.
“We haven’t turned a profit since we started packaging,” said Blessing, who is exploring national and international distribution. “Now, we have one OMRI product — compost. In 60 days, we will have the final paperwork for two more.”
That includes OMRI-listed fertilizer and a potting soil expected to arrive at garden centers as early as February.
More OMRI-listed products for the retail market give the company a competitive leg up, said Billie Gibson, a company sales associate.
“A lot of people grow things without herbicides or pesticides and use organic practices, but their products are not certified,” Gibson said. “This is one of the first companies to handle diverse waste streams and turn them into a product. People love it.”
Blessing operates a roadside stand in Milford, where customers shop for plants and flowers and try the brand’s compost.
“What we’re trying to do, people get it,” Blessing said. “We’re dedicated to restoring the bay, improving agriculture and horticulture and promoting water quality.”
Next year’s expansion is an opportunity to dress more residential and corporate lawns with an environmentally friendly option, Gibson said.
“When there are chemicals on the lawn, the chemicals get into the groundwater and runs off into the bay,” Gibson said.
Of Blessing’s mission, she says this:
“Bruce realized three things: one, we’ve got to wean ourselves off chemicals; second, somebody has to figure out what to do with all the chicken waste; and third, he wants to bring the product to average gardeners, to give them naturally occurring fertilizer.”