Wearing brown from head to toe, Chad Latta of Latta Earthworks seems to blend into the piles of compost that surround him. “Welcome to my sandbox,” Latta says with a smile. The compost site sits just outside the county seat of Athens. “This is where I like to unwind,” Latta says. “This is just my getaway.”
Latta, a firefighter with the Athens Fire Department, started his business in 2012 after a tomato gardening competition with his fellow firefighters. Latta’s tomato plants were not doing well, and he discovered the area lacks quality topsoil.
“I realized what I had to do was not bring in more soil…I had to make the soil I had better, and that’s where the compost comes in,” Latta says.
After meeting people who expressed interest in a local composting site, Latta decided to take a composting class at the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster to become a certified composter. Latta Earthworks is currently registered as a Class III composting site with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA), which means it can accept yard waste, agricultural waste and animal waste for its compost.
He uses construction machinery to mix the manure and other organic material, like leaves and wood chips, and arrange it into rows. “It’s like mixing lemonade. You’ve got to have it just right,” Latta says.
“In composting, you have a bunch of microbes,” Latta says. “As long as you keep the rows fluffed and keep the correct moisture content in there, you keep them happy.”
Latta is required to send his compost to Westerville, Ohio, to be tested by an independent lab, CLC Labs, before selling it. He also tracks the inventory of compost leaving his facility, and this counts toward Athens County’s recycling credits.
Latta hopes to help Athens County in more ways than just plants. “My goal is for this place to be self-sufficient and create a couple local jobs,” Latta says. “The ultimate thing would be for this place to get big enough to that it could pay a couple of people’s income.”
Currently, however, the business is a one-man job, unless you count the microbes. “It’s me and a bunch of microbes working together. Me and Mother Nature kicking butt to help save her,” Latta says.
Mother Nature does her part to remove the smell of the manure from the final product. The carbon from wood chips and other materials neutralizes the manure, making it smell earthy, like the way it smells after it rains. Rain is an important factor in the composting process, helping the compost maintain the proper moisture levels to cure.
But more important for this operation are Latta’s time, sweat and heart that go into the compost every step of the way. Latta’s dedication to his end product is clear in one of his ideas for the business’ next slogan: Composting Dung Right.