Winn Weaver is dwarfed by a mountain of food waste turning to compost.
The so-called Big Claw is one of several gigantic garden tools working Winn’s compost.
Winn Weaver provides compost, mulch and topsoil through his operation in Ohio Gulch.
Winn’s Compost Gains New in Popularity During COVID Pandemic
STORY AND PHOTO BY KATE DALY
“We make the best sh*t in the west!”
Winn Weaver bases his bragging rights on the claim that he’s the only manufacturer who puts organics in their soil.
The owner of Winn’s Compost in Hailey says business has picked up by about 30 percent lately with everyone staying home during the COVID-19 crisis and many showing a new interest in gardening and improving their soil.
And, with a dry summer, some gardeners are turning to compost to help conserve water.
“A pound of compost will hold a gallon of water,” he says.
In many ways, Weaver runs a recycling center. Most of his clients are landscapers who arrive in trucks Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. either to drop off green waste or pick up the compost and topsoil he makes out of their waste to use on their customers’ yards and gardens.
Occasionally, individual gardeners will swing by to drop off or pick up a truck load. Some come to fill up buckets.
Weaver also collects food waste to make compost that gardeners love for the extra nutrients that he says make their gardens “completely explode.”
That product sells for $60 per yard.
Weaver has arrangements with Albertsons in Hailey, Sun Valley Resort and the Valley Club. They usually drop off two tons of food waste a week, except for Christmas time when the amount swells to six tons a week. Due to COVID-19, these days he is only getting about a ton each week of expired produce and table scraps, including meat.
Crows and magpies pick through the large pile that is now curing on the eight-acre site Weaver leases from the Bureau of Land Management at 120 Ohio Gulch Road directly across from the Southern Idaho Solid Waste transfer station.
The Wood River Valley native worked at the transfer station for a year grinding material and figured there must be a more sustainable solution to deal with waste products.
He took a two-week course run by the U.S. Composting Council to learn more and has been set up at his current location for 10 years.
Assisted by his wife and brother-in-law, Weaver works 60 to 70 hours a week. This is his slack season because it’s in between spring and fall clean-ups when landscapers are usually busy dumping off loads for $10 a ton.
A scale large enough for a truck to drive onto stretches out next to his office trailer. Otherwise, there are mounds everywhere ranging from mini-mountains of raw materials to finely screened and finished compost and topsoil.
Weaver’s landscape compost product starts with piles of dirt, rocks, cut up trees, stumps and wood chips that people pay to drop off there. A heavy piece of equipment called a material handler uses a big claw to move and sort everything. The next step involves another large piece of machinery, the grinder. After that new piles then get soaked in thousands of gallons of water.
“When we add water to it that’s when the microbes come out and start eating,”
The piles he eventually turns into topsoil are composed of grass, sod and leaves; they depend more on winter rain and snow to break them down.
Another piece of heavy equipment he uses is nicknamed the Transformer. Eight feet tall and 16 feet wide, it straddles piles and uses paddles to move material around and aerate it.
During the two months it takes for landscape compost piles to mature, they can reach 150 to 160 degrees inside, killing off any weed seeds.
Naturally hot temperatures two summers ago, plus possible grass growing in a pile, led to spontaneous combustion at Winn’s Compost. A stack of cottonwood trees fueled the flames, triggering a fire that multiple firefighting agencies combatted for a month. Weaver recalls using a big loader to cut a fire road around the site while watching all his green waste burn.
One positive byproduct from that whole harrowing experience, however, is what was left: biochar. Winn was left with a pile of charcoal that he adds to enhance his 50/50 blend of food waste and topsoil, selling it for $50 per yard. Landscape compost and topsoil sell for $40 and $20 a yard respectively.
Weaver is hoping in the near future to get ahold of another additive–biosolids, also known as sewage sludge–from the cities of Bellevue, Ketchum and Hailey. The organic material is what remains after water treatment plants process everything that goes down toilets and drains.
He says he is under consideration for receiving the same biosolids that end up in drying beds at the Ohio Gulch Transfer Station across the road.
To prepare for the potential influx of extra sh*t, he plans to install a concrete liner at his facility by the end of summer.