Bear Path Farm

Published in CISA’s March 2011 Enewsletter.

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Click here for an interview and more with Bear Path Farm.

Bill Obear has been in the compost business since 1996.  “The demand for compost continues to rise,” he says.  “Farmers and landscapers are purchasing in large quantities, and I’m providing compost to more and more home gardeners every year.”  Bear Path Farm, based in West Whately, sells compost throughout the Pioneer Valley.

After purchasing his farm in the late 1970s, Obear made compost on a home scale for use on his own gardens and for his small commercial apple and peach orchard.  Obear held day jobs related to energy conservation, and volunteered as the Whately recycling coordinator and a representative to the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District.  When he began thinking about a business venture related to recycling and the environment, compost seemed like a good fit, especially since he already owned appropriate land and some equipment.

Coordinating the sourcing, pick-up, and delivery of compost ingredients is an important part of Obear’s job. Successful composting requires a balance of carbon- and nitrogen-rich ingredients, mixed together and turned several times during the composting process.  Horse bedding, mulch hay, and leaves provide carbon for Bear Path Farm’s compost, while food waste and manure are high in nitrogen. Major sources of compost feedstocks include the Tri-County fairgrounds and a Conway dairy farm. Small amounts of food waste from the Whately elementary school and town transfer station are also composted at Obear’s farm.  “Although the volume from these town sources is quite small,” Obear says, “I’m happy to support the composting of ‘source-separated’ organics in my own town.”

As he’s turning the compost, Obear picks out any uncompostable materials, mostly plastic.  “That means I’m jumping on and off the loader,” he explains, “so it’s important that there’s not too much of it.” Bear Path Farm compost is not screened, because of the high cost of renting or buying screening equipment and the fact that screening is not a perfect solution to cleaning up “trashy” compost. Instead, Obear relies on his own and his suppliers’ attention to quality control, and produces a consistent, nutrient-rich compost with minimal contaminants.  It works well for mulch and top-dressing because it is slightly coarser than screened compost, but his customers also use it as a soil amendment and as an ingredient in potting soil.  Careful attention to achieving and maintaining sufficient heat during the composting process ensures that few weed seeds are present in the finished compost.

Bear Path Farm supplies compost to nearby farms, including Enterprise Farm and Golonka Farm, both in Whately, and to those further afield, like Mountain View Farm in Easthampton and Wilder Brook Farm in Charlemont. Although farmers and landscapers buy in large quantities, home gardeners are important customers for the business.  Obear strives to provide customers with information about soil fertility, soil organisms, soil testing, and the benefits of compost. Bear Path Farm welcomes several school groups each year, and donates compost for community fund raising events.

Obear is thinking about ways to expand his business to meet growing demand.  “I get tremendous positive feedback and it’s great having customers that like what I do,” he says.  “I want to be able to meet their needs into the future.”

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