As the owner of Ringenberg Garten Haus, a landscape company in Spencerville, Indiana, Mark Ringenberg uses literally tons of soil and mulch in his landscaping and nursery projects every year. And although he’d been composting his own coffee grounds and vegetable scraps in his back yard since 1974, until 10 years ago Ringenberg often wondered how he could take his efforts to the next level. Then, while surfing the Internet one evening, he found a website that sells commercial composting machines. Intrigued, Ringenberg attended a composting workshop and bought a compost turner, which enabled him to produce organic compost on a large scale.
To produce that much compost, Ringenberg needed more raw materials. He worked with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to establish a recycling facility next to his nursery, then solicited compost fodder from local businesses. Several local builders and landscapers began donating scrap lumber, drywall and grass clippings. Two nearby cities started sending bagged leaves, and Amish farmers brought horse bedding. Ringenberg was able to produce enough compost to sell to farmers and landscapers in his community, and he often sells the finished compost back to the same farmers and landscapers who donated raw materials.
Ringenberg sells all his organic compost every year and now produces up to 120,000 cubic yards of compost in a season. Even so, his operation is a labor of love rather than a profitable business. “It’s an educational process of building the value of the product,” he explains. “Once customers see how the compost invigorates their lawns and landscapes, the repeat sell is easy. The hard part is persuading someone he needs it in the first place.”
Every spring, Ringenberg heads to local schools to teach kids about composting and invites classes out to the nursery. “We show them the whole nine yards of creating treasure from trash. Suddenly they get it when they see the steam coming out of the piles. The finished product looks and smells earthy and wonderful,” he says.
Next up for Ringenberg is convincing the state to let him accept post-consumer food waste from restaurants, which currently isn’t allowed. He’s already talked to dozens of local food establishments willing to donate food waste if the state changes the rules.
“I’d love to see more people understand the benefits of composting, even in their own back yards,” Ringenberg says. “What I do is just a drop in the bucket, but it’s a really cool way of being in tune with Mother Nature.”