Couple finds a living in compost

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Mindy and Calin Farley are in the market for rotting apple cores, leftover eggplant casserole, half-eaten fried chicken wings and anything else in the refrigerator that’s destined for the trash.

That’s because their compost facility in Floyd County, Poplar Manor Enterprises Inc. (PME), recently earned a certification from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to turn discarded food into high-grade plant nutrition. PME is only the second solid-waste compost facility with permission to handle food waste in Virginia.

The Farleys, both in their 20s, chanced upon their business out of necessity. After graduating from college, they decided that they wanted to live in Floyd County, where Calin grew up, but local job opportunities were limited. Her parents suggested that they do something with the family farm in Riner.

“We wanted to come up with something new and inventive but that would also be for the greater good,” Mindy recalls. They considered a number of ventures before settling on the compost facility in 2005.
It took three years and about $300,000 to get fully under way. The Farleys collected cow manure from area feedlots plus wood and yard waste, and sold the resulting compost for $35 a tractor scoop.
PME has had no trouble selling its product, but the original business model wasn’t very profitable. Farmers weren’t willing to pay to have their manure picked up. That meant the couple had to absorb the transportation and time costs.

With food waste, potential customers such as restaurants, commercial kitchens, catering companies, hotels and even environmentally conscious consumers, are willing to pay a price to have someone pick up their uneaten meals, snacks and desserts.

“Our goal is to make it cheaper for the customers to give the food waste to us than to take it to the landfill,” Mindy says.

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