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By Mike Morris, The Union Democrat, Sonora, CA
Turkey manure, feathers and yard clippings are the basic ingredients in what has become a successful composting business for Diestel Turkey Ranch.
The company has been selling its Diestel Structured Compost for more than a year and next month plans to start stocking its new Diestel Root Force, which contains a higher-quality compost called humus that is known for growing strong, healthy plants.
Jason Diestel, Director of Sustainability for the turkey farm, said the compost is being used everywhere from small organic farms and vineyards in the foothills to orchard and almond farms in the Central Valley.
“It’s exciting to be able to help all the farmers in the area,” said Diestel, whose grandfather founded Diestel Turkey Ranch 60 years ago. His parents now run the business.
Larry Giles, who owns Sonora-area Red Earth Farm with his wife, Katie Johnson, said they’ve been using Diestel’s compost for more than a year.
“It’s working out wonderfully,” he said. “We tried several different composts from the valley and we just weren’t happy with the quality.”
Red Earth Farm consists of six acres of vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs. Produce grown there is sold on Saturday mornings at the Sonora Certified Farmers Market.
Giles said he looks forward to trying the new Diestel Root Force this fall.
Diestel, 24, speaks both passionately and scientifically when discussing compost, or broken down organic matter that helps make plants grow and thrive.
His interest in the topic was sparked in 2006 while researching his senior project at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He graduated the following year with a degree in agriculture business and accounting.
Diestel spent half of last year in New Zealand studying with a company that specializes in biological farming and humus compost. “I went there to learn everything I could about farming and soil fertility,” he said.
Using his knowledge from college and New Zealand, he returned to his family’s farm to help craft a compost rich in minerals and nutrients.
When healthier fertilizer is used, healthier food will be grown, he said. “Our composting process is designed by observing how humus compost happens in nature,” he said, comparing the company’s new product to forest soil.
At Diestel’s composting site on La Grange Road, in western Tuolumne County, a machine turns the compost and monitors its moisture, oxygen and temperature—the three main components to successful compost, Diestel said. The process to create the compost takes eight to ten weeks.
Brice Station Vineyards, four miles east of Murphys on Highway 4, started using the compost this year on its seven acres of grapes.
“We have a beautiful crop,” said owner Stuart Mast.
Brice Station not only uses the compost, but sells it to Calaveras County residents. Diestel’s compost is also sold at Mountain Sage in Groveland and the company’s composting site.
Diestel views the company’s new business venture as much more than just creating compost.
“Really it’s about having an influence on agriculture in the world and eliminating farmers’ dependency on chemical fertilizers,” he said. “We can have an influence on healthier gardening and farming.”