Meet an Illinois Farmer Who Turns Organic Matter Into Compost
Peoria County farmer Paul Rosenbohm can thank his neighbor Mrs. Phillips, a long-neglected neighboring farm and an overabundance of dairy cow manure for his successful compost business.
Nearly 30 years ago, Rosenbohm and his brother needed more land to spread the waste from their cows. When the farm adjacent to theirs came up for auction, Rosenbohm bought it primarily for a manure repository.
Believing all his neighbors had air conditioning, Rosenbohm spread a particularly aromatic load of manure on his new fields on the first warm day of summer. The next morning, Rosenbohm’s phone rang.
“My neighbor, dear, sweet Mrs. Phillips was on the phone, and she, in fact, did not have air conditioning,” Rosenbohm recalls. “When she had turned on the whole house fan at suppertime – well, to this day her kids still bring up it up when I run into them.”
To get back into Mrs. Phillips’ good graces, Rosenbohm began looking into composting as a way to utilize the manure. “I knew it had value,” he says. “When we’d put it on our farm fields, we didn’t have to use as much fertilizer.”
After consulting with successful composters nationwide, including an expert at Illinois State University, Rosenbohm began making his own compost and incorporated a business, LHF Compost. His EPA-approved product, which he brands as BetterEarth Compost, is made from yard waste, food scraps (from restaurants, grocery stores, and university and corporate food services) and pumpkin waste from Peoria-area processors. Compostable tableware also gets thrown in. Last year, Rosenbohm collected all the tableware and recyclable material from a Peoria County Farm Bureau breakfast.
The Dirt on BetterEarth
BetterEarth compost is sold at dozens of garden centers and hardware stores in the Peoria area, as well as select locations in Galesburg, Jacksonville, Macomb and Springfield. To find out where to buy, visit betterearthcompost.com or call (309) 697-0963.
Composting is Mother Nature’s recycling. Over a period of months, organic material, such as grass, leaves and food scraps, decomposes. Adding water and turning the material regularly using windrows helps speed things up, but the entire process depends on microorganisms to break down the organic matter into compost.
LHF receives about 60,000 cubic yards of material a year, and after the microbes do their job, Rosenbohm has between 15,000 to 20,000 cubic yards of compost. He sells BetterEarth in bags at retailers throughout central Illinois and in bulk to homeowners, landscapers and contractors.
He estimates he’s prevented more than 20,000 tons of material from going into landfills. “Not only are we saving landfill space, but we also cut down on the methane gas that is produced there,” Rosenbohm says. “What might take 30 or more years to break down in a landfill, I can do in three months.”
Rosenbohm credits his father for teaching him to respect the land and to make good soil even better. “My dad was big on soil conservation,” Rosenbohm recalls, “and he always said you have to take care of what you have, whether it was our animals, a farm you were taking over or the environment.”
In recent years, Rosenbohm has started producing mulch and manufactured soils because of customer demand, but it’s the composting process that still leaves him in awe. “The first day, it just looks like grass, leaves and twigs, but we start grinding and then turning, and it starts looking like black dirt, which is just amazing,” he marvels. “We take what some people call waste to make a product that everybody oohs and aahs about, and it’s so much better for their agriculture.”