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Fine Dining For Gardens: Maine’s Gourmet Compost

July 31, 1996

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ With a name like Penobscot Blend, it sounds like a hip new coffee concoction from a gourmet roaster.

And with ingredients like Atlantic salmon, Maine mussels and blueberries, you may not believe that this fancy feast is nothing more than designer dirt for your garden’s consumption.

``People always ask me `Uh, am I supposed to eat this?‴ said Carlos Quijano, a former investment banker who came up with the idea for the gourmet compost and now heads Coast of Maine Organic Products Inc., which sells it.

Penobscot Blend, which comes in a ``designer bag″ with a painting of coastal Maine, is being snatched up by New England gardeners who want to give their plants a good meal, while thinking pleasant thoughts about Maine.

``It’s not any longer a question of buying a bag of dirt,″ said Jonathan Collins of the Mt. Vernon, Maine-based Woods End Research Laboratories, which is internationally known for its compost recipes.

``Penobscot Blend is definitely aimed at those who are concerned about what’s in their compost and concerned about appearances in their plants and gardens,″ Collins said. ``That’s where the market is growing.″

At D’Andrea’s nursery in tony Greenwich, Conn., the compost is selling so quickly at $9.50 for a 40 pound bag that the store is is having trouble keeping the shelves stocked. By comparison, a bag of composted cow manure sells for as low as $1.59 at discount stores like Wal-Mart.

``It’s a good totally organic product and it does so much,″ said nursery owner William D’Andrea. ``People like the packaging and the ingredients.″

The eco-friendly compost recipe was developed and tested by Woods End, which has been making compost blends for 22 years. The mix is 25 percent wild blueberries, 25 percent salmon, 25 percent mussels and 25 percent peat.

``It’s fine dining for plants,″ Collins said.

And it even looks pretty. The compost glistens with tiny particles of mussel shells and little twigs are evidence of the wild blueberries.

Quijano came up with the idea for the high-end compost while working as a consultant trying to solve a local mussel farm’s costly waste problem. The mussel growers couldn’t dump their leftover shells at sea and they were trying to compost them, which was becoming an expensive process.

Quijano realized that it was not only the mussel company, but also Maine’s salmon and blueberry industries that were having trouble with their waste.

Quijano decided to ``create an economic reason for all those people to continue to compost and create an incentive for others to join in.″

``We are helping the marine industry and creating a wonderful product that solves a waste disposal problem that was getting pretty messy,″ Quijano said.

Because of the success with Penobscot Blend, which only became available in garden centers from Connecticut to Maine this summer, Quijano plans to make other gourmet compost ``blends″ and a potting mix.

This time, however, the menu may be even more exotic, featuring sea urchins and sea cucumbers.

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