Sonoma’s TerraVesco wins North Bay Maker Award
A 4-year-old company officially known as the Sonoma Valley Worm Farm LLC, doing business as TerraVesco (Latin for “feed the soil”), is bringing the benefits of vermiculture to California vineyard operators, nut tree growers, berry farmers, landscapers and home gardeners who use its earthworm-assisted compost and extract soil amendments to produce robust plants and high quality crops using less chemical fertilizer.
Those deploying TerraVesco products report using from 25% to 50% less chemical nitrogen-based fertilizer while still maintaining similar growth efficiency and crop yield results.
“We support the transition from conventional to sustainable organic agriculture,” said Richard North, CEO of Sonoma-based TerraVesco located at 1280 Sperring Road. “In an age when organic farming techniques are outpacing traditional practices, the agriculture community continues to look for ways to pursue viable, sustainable alternatives for maintaining healthier soil and growing healthier food, while improving human and animal environmental health and meeting the challenges of feeding a world with increasing human population and declining natural resources.”
The TerraVesco story begins with Jack Chambers, a commercial airline pilot turned worm farmer, who started with a five gallon bucket of worms in 1992 on advice of a friend. He placed them in his compost bin and days later discovered that they had converted the pile into rich, black and crumbly soil. From that point he was hooked on worms.
In his spare time over the next two decades, Chambers continued to learn more about the beneficial properties of vermiculture, and how to refine compost to produce a high quality product in a more consistent way, while gaining an awareness and appreciation of organic agriculture methods at a time when sustainability was still in its infancy.
When studying outcomes derived from this genius of nature to grow beautiful, more resilient plants, Chambers found its use typically led to less transplant shock, better root systems, larger leaves and canopy, a stronger stem structure and a lower incidence of pathogens, as well as better disease suppression, a shorter time to maturity and fewer incidents caused by insect vectors.
In 2012, Chambers, North and Brian O'Toole formed a science-driven company called TerraVesco and began large-scale commercial production of Vermicompost and Vermi-extract – the nutrient-rich liquid byproduct gleaned from compost solids – bringing to market high quality organic products. The company has experienced phenomenal growth with sales increasing 50% year over year as more customers realize and appreciate the value of vermiculture and embrace organic farming.
The three members of the executive team have different backgrounds and roles while sharing a common vision. North oversees day-to-day operations, Chambers is in charge of production and O'Toole is the chief strategist for this rapidly expanding enterprise.
Scientific and academic research, along with field trials, are underway to document growth efficacy toward improved yields using vermiculture compost compared with conventional fertilizer practices.
For viticulture, holes 8-10 inches wide and 12 to 18 inches deep are dug in the soil. Two cups of Vermicompost are placed in immediate contact with the rootstock. According to North, interaction begins with microbial diversity -- while acting as a catalyst the compost and the plant -- that leads to the ability of roots to uptake and translocate nutrients with greater efficiently.
Today TerraVesco's produces professional grade, Organic Materials Review Institute-listed products recognized by this national organic certification organization, as well as by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Worm farming begins with organic dairy cow manure heated between 160 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit to remove harmful pathogens and weeds while transforming the mass into a homogenized consistency. This mixture is fed to some 50 million worms in large five-foot wide and 120-feet long reactors for 90 days to fully develop industrial-grade compost.
The company's 16 employees package Vermicompost in one cubic yard quantities ($575) and one cubic foot bags ($39.99). Vermi-extract comes in a 250-gallon tote priced at $1,350.
“We are rapidly learning how to scale our business to keep pace with demand. Five years ago we were supplying our products to a relatively small geographic area. Now our distribution footprint and market area extends from Sonoma to the central coast, down to Bakersfield and up to Sacramento. We're also working on expanding our sales to points outside of California as we continue to refine our processes and understand the market,” North said.
“Our horticulture-grade products are made using a stringent quality assurance program and a rigorous production process to ensure consistency and reliability. At the end of the day, our goal is to transform modern agriculture by unleashing the genius of the soil.”