COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. — It’s all about soil biology, Bruce Elliott of Sustainable Agricultural Technologies says.
“Everything about farming is about biology,” he said. “If you don’t take care of the biology you have all these other problems.”
Sustainable Agriculture Technologies started in 1997 and focuses on creating sustainable solutions for the biological management of agriculture and organic waste processing, according to its website.
Elliott was always interested in farming chemical-free and began when he and his wife, Kristi Norris, decided to open a fruit and vegetable stand.
From there he took an interest in vermicomposting — composting with earthworms, which he said worked well until he tried to take the compost out of a bin — he would accidentally take out some of the “workers.”
He read an article in a magazine called “Worm Digest” about a flow-through system called the Worm Wigwam, and a year later decided to invest in one. When he called the manufacturer, however, the inventor was building his last one before closing the business. He sold Elliott the rights to it, and Elliott started to build them.
“One thing led to another and within a few months, I had requests for larger machines,” he said.
Elliott, who is not an engineer or designer by trade, worked with some friends to add more machines to the lineup. There are now seven sizes.
In 2002, he attended a conference where he learned about the soil food web and saw a small compost tea brewer.
“I thought, ‘We’re not going to feed America with that. If the soil food web is so important there needs to be a bigger machine,’” he said.
He built a 500-gallon compost tea brewer. Since then, his brewers and Worm Wigwams have been sold all over the world.
“Due to environmental problems and farming practices, soil biology is not what it used to be,” Elliott explained. “What the compost tea does is add millions of microbes per square foot of soil with regular application. It repopulates the soil with beneficial compost.”
Vermicompost is also used to make the compost tea.
“Everything in Mother Nature is to return organic waste to humus,” he said, “the closest thing to that is vermicompost.”
The benefits of vermicomposting include soil compaction going away, nutrients cycling better and fertilization can be cut anywhere from 50% to 80%. The biggest difference from traditional compost is vermicompost has more bacteria and fungi.
Being a pioneer in the field wasn’t always easy. He said that his neighbors were happy with their fertilizer companies and when he started to do something different, their reactions toward him changed.
“They chastise you. You used to meet them for coffee in the mornings and then your chair is gone, literally,” he explained. “So there’s peer pressure. It’s gotten a lot better since organics has taken hold.”
Elliott has an 83-acre farm and ranch where he raises cattle and goats, and he only uses compost tea. His whole focus has been centered on soil biology, and for that reason he said he feels good about his business.
“I get up in the morning and I’m proud of what I do,” he said. “I’m not hurting the environment. I’m an advocate for eating healthy food. I’ve been in other industries and there’s nothing more rewarding than this.”