New Northwest-Developed Organic Fertilizer Not As Smelly, Popular With Farmworkers

By Anna King

When you think organic you probably visualize fresh, sweet-smelling veggies and fruit. But it turns out that really good for you stuff, is grown in some pretty foul fertilizer. In fact it’s so bad it’s been known to make farmworkers gag. Now, there’s one new sweeter-smelling organic option developed right here in the Northwest.

At an organic farm near Eltopia, Washington workers are busy sorting asparagus into bundles. When they have one completed, they rubber band it, and cut the ends flat.

Eric Peterson is a produce clerk at the Redmond, Wash. PCC, he loads some leafy greens into the Harvester. Photo by Anna King.This farm is 15 country miles north of Pasco and grows over 300 hundred different varieties of crops -- everything from eggplants to cherries. But what makes all these delicious organic veggies grow?

Anna King: “Are you serious?”
This is my organic innocence-lost moment --
Alan Schreiber: “Smell that.”

The farm’s owner, Alan Schreiber shows me a huge 200-gallon plastic tub.

Anna King: “I can smell it already, that’s gross.”

It’s digested fish parts mixed with molasses. He dares me to take a deep whiff from the spout. It’s vat of fibrous, brown goo.

Alan Schreiber: “And you see those white things on the sides, those are maggots. This get’s maggots in it. It smells like a toilet.”

This composted fish juice is one of the things organic farmers use to feed their crops.

Alan Schreiber: “Your options basically are, manure-based products, or fishor feather meal, or some sort of animal byproduct. And none of them smell particularly good.”

Photo: Eric Peterson is a produce clerk at the Redmond, Wash. PCC, he loads some leafy greens into the Harvester. Photo by Anna King.

On top of that, Schreiber the fishy fertilizer goo --- well it often plugs up his irrigation lines. Sometimes a line will get so backed up --- workers get splashed with the stuff. That smells …

Alan Schreiber: “…worse than a porta-potty the Sunday morning after a bluegrass festival.”

But now Schreiber has another option. He’s not only an organic farmer, but also an agricultural researcher. And a company out of Redmond, Washington approached him to test a new, sweeter-smelling organic liquid fertilizer. It’s called WISErganic and Schreiber says he noticed a difference immediately. His workers started arguing about who got to use the new grow juice and …

Alan Schreiber: “… who got to put out the decomposed fish guts.”

WISErganic does have a smell. It’s sort of like earthy sourdough bread, but it’s not nearly as bad as some of the alternatives. So what’s this stuff made of? Eric Peterson is a produce clerk at the Redmond PCC. He sorts through the mustard greens and the rainbow chard … pitching any suspect bundles into his plastic tote.

Eric Peterson: “I just go through each one of them, to see if they are wilty or moldy… ”

Then, it’s out the backdoor to the loading dock and to -- the Harvester. The Harvester is a four-by-seven-foot steel box with a keypad, cameras, and some bone-crushing jaws. Peterson pops the wilty and bruised items into the Harvester’s hopper. The Harvester can also chew through meat, bone, flowers and pastries -- it’s all part of the fertilizer smoothie. 

Back at the lab the fertilizer experts tinker with the juice, then send it back to the farms and gardeners’ backyards as liquid organic fertilizer. There are four Harvester units around the Seattle area so far. The company has plans for a West Coast expansion later this year and then if all goes well, nationwide.

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