Just a short and scenic ride away from the Perkiomen Trail is the Barnside Farm Composting Facility in Schwenksville.
With green efforts on the rise both for the bettering of human lives and more respect for our earth in mind, this five-acre composting site is setting an example for the community while also providing nearby residents with the opportunity to bring locally made, healthy garden soil into their own yards.
A free sample of BioCycle magazine showed up on Nancy Larkin’s doorstep in 1998, and reading its articles about the need for composting across America quickly stirred her interest in reshaping her farmland to something that would be better-suited for the community.
Co-owners of the mom-and-pop operation, Nancy and her husband, Walt, took a portion of their farmland, secured by William Penn centuries ago, and dedicated it to composting around 2000 after receiving a permit by rule from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The site saw little activity for the first few years, but in 2003, Nancy started taking calls about hauling in big loads of leaves.
By 2005, she agreed to let tree debris make a home for itself on the property till it could be chipped up and made into mulch for retaining water in landscape beds.
Unlike most mulch, Nancy’s farm blends are made from aged wood that is natural, straight from tree debris, and untreated.
The majority of mulches available today are made at least in part from old pallets and construction site lumber. Only a black dyed mulch she orders in from Quakertown is not organic like her farm blends.
In 2007 and 2008 the whole place really began to boom, and by 2010 Nancy had earned her state license to produce quality-made and organically inspired compost.
The state requires that straight compost and compost mixtures stay at 131 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 days in a row, with adequate turning in that time, then curing for at least 30 days.
Even while the chill of winter stretched across the air when snow sat on the ground, Nancy's compost piles easily measured temperatures of 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Barnside’s 50/50 blend of compost and topsoil is by far the most popular seller to locals, with feedback about it lighting up Nancy and Walt’s smiles after long days of keeping the operation afloat.
“Compost is huge for us,” Nancy said. “People get so excited from the results—it just makes you feel so good that you were able to contribute to the joy they’re seeing.”
One customer enthusiastically told Nancy that with her compost, he grew 5-foot-tall zinnias, and another had tomatoes growing out of the tops of wire cages, with the highest yield ever in the history of his gardening.
Having the most successful gardens in the neighborhood, thanks to using Nancy’s compost also brings customers back, ecstatically telling their stories to her and Walt.
A major misconception Nancy said weighs people down is that recycling food is the same thing as treating it like landfill or garbage material, which it’s not.
Instead, it’s like turning vegetables in your garden but on a much bigger scale, Nancy noted.
Nancy anticipates eventually renewing her food waste application, she said, only taking in fruits and vegetables, not meat, bones or animal fat.
“The end result of the composting is so highly usable and valuable to reproducing other organic matter,” Nancy said.
“If you put a bush in the ground, in Pennsylvania and you fill it back up with the dirt you took out of the hole you dug, not amending the original soil somehow with organic matter, you’re going to be a slave to watering it,” Nancy said.
“If you aerate your lawn and top dress with compost, you’ll find that after three years you don’t have to water, and your grass will stay green almost all summer--even in the hottest temperatures,” Nancy said.
Walt, a retired dentist of 47 years, is Nancy's main delivery driver, and he sometimes spends 12 to 14 hours on the road hauling compost and mulch to residents all around the region. Walt is also nearing 80 years of age.
He explained that with dentistry, a mental tiredness plagued him aside from a physical fatigue. But in handling deliveries, it’s only physically tiring, and he considers the work enjoyable.
Nancy offers free educational tours to schools looking to give students a more hands-on experience with the ins and outs of composting today.
She is anxious to dabble in vermicomposting, or developing compost with food waste and the wiggling work of certain species of worms, and hopes to tackle this pursuit in the near future.
Visit Barnside Farm Composting Facility at 991 Haldeman Road in Schwenksville, PA 19473 and online at www.barnsidefarm.com and also find them on Facebook.