Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Q&A with Cameron Bonsey, Director of Marketing for Coast of Maine Organic Products, Inc,

Cameron Bonsey, Director of Marketing
Known for its world class, organically-approved compost blends, Coast of Maine Organic Products, Inc was founded in 1996 by Carlos & Jean Quijano. Their focus of distribution is to local independent retailers, providing great customer service and amazing product quality.

What is the state of the organic gardening industry? 
The organic gardening industry is doing extremely well because of education from organizations like NOFA, access to information and the desire for people to understand where products are sourced and how they are made. 

Where do you see the greatest growth and what’s driving it?  
We see the biggest growth with the home gardener because that is our focus. People want to grow their own food with organically approved products. They are truly beginning to understand the impact on their bodies and it is young families with children where we see tremendous growth. 

Jeff checking temperature of compost windrows
What are some of the most common challenges professionals face in caring for the land organically and what approach do you take to solving them?  
Educating the customer in regard to organic options, how they work and the long term impact to their landscape. We do a lot of educational videos to teach these practices and how our products impact soil biology and the ultimately the plants. They work very effectively 

The garden centers we work with will often hire young, inexperienced staff and our product training classes backed up with the video training really helps them to explain our products and benefits to the consumer. 

They also use the videos on all their social media platforms so the customer often comes to them knowing exactly what they want and need. 
Once we explain the benefits of the calcium and chitin that comes from the lobster shells we compost, they never forget it! 

What advice do you have for conventional land care professionals who are considering transitioning to organic?  
Get educated! Learn about soil biology and how the products you use impact that biology .I know that our product development staff relies on books like “True Living Organics” and “Teaming with Microbes” as well as many other sources. From there they do the testing in their own back yards and get to know exactly how and why our compost blends and fertilizers work. 

Lobster shells, a nice addition to compost materials
Your products are made with local ingredients  - from both land and sea – which would otherwise be thrown in the garbage. Do you consider your business to be part of the solution to food waste?  
We are pleased to be part of the food waste solution, but we are only a small part. We take lobster shells from processing plants that would otherwise go to a landfill. We have never charged a tipping fee and we also help to offset the transportation costs.  

Our success in focusing solely on composting and distribution to local retailers has allowed other companies to realize they can compost food waste and make a living selling the finish compost. That is where we have had the biggest impact. 

Carlos and Jean Quijano, the happy founders of C.O.M!
Are your products appropriate for any geographic location and application (turf vs. gardens vs. trees/shrubs/woodlands)? 
We have products for all of these applications that vary in the marine and land-based residuals which we use to benefit turf, gardens, trees and shrubs. This is where our videos become very useful! 
Right now we are broadening our turf care line with marine-based liquid fertilizers. We are in the process of testing those so any lawn care professionals who would like to help with the testing should give us a call!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Inside the Organic Land Care Industry: An Interview with PJC Organic

A Q&A with Pam Newcombe of PJC Organic and Renaissance All Natural Fertilizers, sponsors of the NOFA OLC Organic Land Care Accreditation Course being held in Maine this August.

Pam and Fred Newcombe began PJC Organic as a full service landscape provider specializing in organic fertilization services and in 2006 purchased Renaissance All Natural Fertilizers. Today the company provides product, support and business tools to landscapers, municipalities and schools that want to develop an organic turf care program that fits their business. They also offer organic fertilization services on Boston's North Shore, giving them the opportunity to continually evaluate the products they manufacture and distribute. 

Fred Newcombe of PJC Organic
Q: What is the state of the organic land care industry? Where do you see the greatest growth and what’s driving it? 

The organic land care industry, as it relates to turf, is growing at a faster rate than the conventional market based on feedback from our customers. We’ve found the greatest areas of interest are in states that have implemented pesticide and fertilizer use restrictions. Because there is often a time of transition between passage of laws and required implementation, this change is often seen 2+ years after legislation is in place. The East coast seems to be a leader in this arena. I think the private sector is growing quicker than municipal because of budget issues with towns. 

Q: What are some of the most common challenges professionals face in caring for the land organically and what approach to you take to solving them?
The biggest challenge in the Northeast is that grass is not native, so there is a time of transition required to bring the soil to the place where grass wants to grow, and people can be impatient. Current soil conditions, turf density and budget will determine how long the transition will take. 

By far the most common questions are – what are you going to do about weeds and grubs? Our standard reply is weeds as an indication of underlying soil conditions. If you simply kill a weed it doesn’t mean grass will grow

We try to keep our approach simple by working in 4 areas:
1) Soil chemistry: meet NPK needs and adjust pH
2) Soil Structure: promote porosity & nutrient holding capacity of the soil by improving OM & CEC
3) Soil Biology: feed the microbes so they can feed the plan. When #1 & 2 are addressed, desirable biology will come out of dormancy. On really bad lawns it may be necessary to apply compost, pelleted compost or compost tea 
4) Cultural practices by far is the most important of the 4 steps - proper mowing, watering, over seeding, etc. By focusing on these 4 areas you can create a dense stand of turf that will outcompete weeds. 

The other challenge for both the professional and homeowner is choosing products. Because this is an emerging industry, the government hasn’t begun to regulate the term “organic” in labeling turf and ag products. Unlike like the food industry, turf products are not “certified” organic by the USDA. There are many products that claim to be “organic” but are not All Natural, which can be misleading.

We have chosen to get our Renaissance 8-1-6 OMRI listed. Which means the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), an independent agency, has determined our fertilizer meets the National Organic Program (NOP) standards. Because all our Renaissance formulations are a derivative of our OMRI listed 8-1-6, our Renaissance blends meet the NOP standards. Companies that say their products comply with NOP standards without going through a recognized approval agency are self-certifying and there is no one policing that market right now. Second, we have intentionally kept our Organic Fertilization Service business as a way to test new products coming on the market so we can speak from personal experience when reselling them, and also consider how the products we sell work together. 

Q: What advice do you have for conventional land care professionals who are considering transitioning to organic?
I would say the homeowner demand is growing and eventually legislation will necessitate the change, so be an early adopter and position yourself as a leader in that market. That being said, simply swapping a bag of organic fertilizer for a bag of synthetic fertilizer won’t work. Learning how to take and interpret a soil test is key in determining products and putting together a program. You don’t need to buy expensive equipment - you can have a successful program using granular only and a broadcast spreader, or if you already have the ability to do liquids a granular liquid combination can work as well. Get trained and network. Because there’s no “4 step program” it’s common for us to hear from potential customers that they just finished training and don’t know where to start. This is where we can help, as well as networking organic professionals with one another. Also, don’t fall for the latest products on the market because they might not be there next year. Put together a program that addresses underlying soil conditions and stay the course. 

Q: How has your AOLCP (Accredited Organic Land Care Professional) training and accreditation helped your business?
Fred Newcombe has been an AOLCP since 2005 which has set us apart in the service industry from those just jumping on the wagon. It is also helpful to have the OLC standards to refer to when deciding what things are allowed as a rescue treatment, how often you recommend soil testing, etc. Also being on the NOFA Organic Land Care Approved product list has helped set us apart as a product provider. 

Pam Newcombe of PJC Organic can be reached at, 978-432-1019, or

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Organic Landscaping Course Addresses Growing Need for Chemical-Free Experts

Four Day Course at USM Accredits Organic Land Care Professionals (AOLCPs)

Landscaping professionals transitioning to organic practices, and those already using chemical-free options who want to learn more, are invited to attend a NOFA OLC 30-hour professional training course at the University of Southern Maine, Portland on August 15, 16, 22, & 23, 2016, and sit for the accreditation exam. 

New! 10 Maine Board of Pesticides Control credits available for the Maine Accreditation Course in Organic Land Care. If you are looking for credits to renew your license, you only need 9 every three years for a Commercial Master Applicator License.

Since 2002, The NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Accreditation Course in Organic Land Care has been the definitive professional training course for landscapers, lawn care specialists, municipal groundskeepers, landscape architects and environmental educators to learn and adopt best practices for caring for the land without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Attendees who pass the accreditation exam on August 23 become Accredited Organic Land Care Professionals (AOLCPs), joining over 500 NOFA AOLCPs in 20 states, including 8 in Maine.

Landscaping professionals in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and other New England states increasingly consider this course a savvy investment in distinguishing themselves as highly trained experts in the growing market for non-toxic and organic landscaping services. 

Demand for organic land care professionals is increasing rapidly in Maine due to a growing concern about the hazards of synthetic pesticides and the adoption of ordinances banning or restricting the use of chemical pesticides on town, and sometimes private, land in twenty-seven towns including Ogunquit, Rockland and most recently, South Portland. 

After receiving requests from Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), Portland Protectors, and many individuals to bring the course to Maine, NOFA is pleased to announce its inaugural course dates and offer early bird registration of $695 until June 30 at

“This dynamic course is packed with an enormous amount of information delivered by some of the organic landscape industry’s most knowledgeable and engaging speakers. Business owners, organizations, and individuals alike, will benefit from this excellent value and keen marketing tool. Whether you are new to the idea of organic land care or are interested in advancing your skills to the next level, this course can meet your needs.” - Jen Dunlap, AOLCP, a Horticulturist with Maine Coastal Botanical Gardens in Boothbay and a February 2016 course graduate.

Local professionals joining the roster of notable Accreditation Course in Organic Land Care instructors include David Melevsky of Go GreenLandscaping Inc. of Scarborough, Maine who will teach “Organic Tick Control” and Paula Kovecses of The Way It Grows, a landscaping company in Eastport, Maine, will teach "Introduction to Permaculture." 

Seasoned instructors include leading organic land care industry experts Chip Osborne of Osborne Organics, Michael Nadeau of Wholistic Land Care Consulting, Frank Crandall of Frank Crandall Horticultural Solutions, and Paul Wagner of GreenerPastures Organics. The curriculum includes soil health and proper soil testing, site analysis, green stormwater infrastructure, plant care and organic turf.

The course runs from 8:00am - 5:00pm each day and can accommodate up to 60 students. The early bird registration fee of $695 includes all course materials, lunch, the final exam and 2016 Accreditation. Group discounts and payment plans are available. 

For more details including a course curriculum, and to register, contact the Northeast Organic Farming Association (CT NOFA) office at 203-308-2584 or visit