Chambersburg man turns cast-off Christmas trees into compost

January 14, 2002

Chambersburg man turns cast-off Christmas trees into compost


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The star is down, the tinsel and lights are gone, and the last glass ornaments have been carefully packed away. But what do you do with the dying Christmas tree?

For close to a decade, Clifford Hawbaker has been accepting cast-off Christmas trees for composting at his Chambersburg, Pa., dairy farm.

Last week, Hawbaker estimated there were between 300 and 400 trees in his compost heap, including more than 100 one man brought on Christmas Eve that he wasn't able to sell.


Hamilton Township, Pa., residents Charles and Bernice James added one more to the pile when they dropped off their 6-foot Douglas fir Thursday morning.

"It was probably the best tree we ever had - we didn't have one needle drop," Charles James said.

But the tree had served its purpose and it was time to dispose of it, so the couple drove it to Hawbaker's farm because their township doesn't pick up the trees.

Hawbaker charges residents $1 per tree to help cover his costs of turning it into a spreadable compost.

He also accepts larger hauls, including truckloads from Chambersburg Borough. The borough grinds up discarded trees that residents leave at the curbside and drops off several loads during the month, Hawbaker said.

In addition to the growing mound of Christmas firs and pines, Hawbaker's compost pile includes tree trimmings and wooden pallets.

Eventually he grinds the wood and mixes it with leaves and animal waste to create a nutrient-stabilized compost, he said.

The multi-step process takes a couple of months to complete.

Hawbaker markets the compost to local greenhouses and gardeners. The compost is particularly popular with people who want organic fertilizer because his is completely organic with no contaminants, Hawbaker said.

"I started it as a hobby. It's not high profit," he said.

Initially, Hawbaker tried composting as a way to eliminate the odor from the waste of his 600 head of cattle.

"I don't like odors. This greatly reduces the problem," he said.

But he realized he was making a product that was in demand all around Franklin County.

He charges $20 for a yard of compost, less if the person buys in bulk.

Hawbaker said the fee covers his cost of composting, and to be sure, he and his wife, Maggie, have set up a separate account this year in the name Garden of Eden Compost.

He estimates he started with between 6,000 and 8,000 yards of materials - including cast-off Christmas trees - last year to create 2,500 to 3,000 yards of compost.

He said he hopes to increase that a bit this year, and he is working with other farmers in the area who want to start composting.

The composting site is on about three acres of Hawbaker's 240-acre Hamilton Heights Dairy Farm off Edenville Road. The farm has been in Hawbaker's family for nearly 200 years.

Residents can drop trees off at Hamilton Heights Dairy Farm, 2300 Edenville Road, Chambersburg. Follow the gravel driveway and then bear left toward the compost pile.

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