The Story of Nomco and its Bark-Based Soil Amendment

Here's the story of how the Morrells founded NOMCO (Nate and Onnalee Morrell Co./Nature's Own Method Co.) in 1969 and created a soil amendment made from bark and other agricultural byproducts.

| March/April 1973

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    By 1973, hundreds of bags of Nomco soil amendment were ready for distribution.
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    Nate Morrell standing beside bags of his bark soil amendment.
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    This test shows the concentration of essential elements in soil treated with Nomco's conditioner.
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    This test shows the chemical composition of Nomco's conditioner in parts per million.

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It ain't easy... but if you really want to build a new life and found a business in organics, it can be done.

There Nate and Onnalee Morrell were in the wet spring of 1969: a not-so-young couple (born 1924 and 1935) married just a year . . . and newly moved from New Hampshire to an old 150-acre farm near Watertown, New York. As if that weren't enough change in their lives, Nate was also fresh out of a job after 17 years as a machinery salesman to the woodworking industry. It seems that he'd never been able to view grabbing a fast dollar as a measure of success . . . and the company he'd been with had finally told him he was just too honest for the firm's own good.

Well, then. It looked as if the fresh start the Morrells were making would have to include a new occupation for Nate. Oh sure, he could have just worked that 150 acres and experimented with new ideas in organic farming while Onnalee paid the bills with her full-time job as a registered nurse. The Morrells, however, knew that the plans they had for their farm would take more money than the nursing job could provide . . . and they also were feeling a vague but growing desire to commit themselves to a way of living in which they could really believe.

"We both felt very strongly about pure foods, privacy, conservation of resources, simplifying our surroundings, and harming neither ourselves nor our fellow men," Nate says. "As we discussed these feelings, our belief in the land and organic farming methods continued to grow and we increasingly found ourselves thinking of ways to recycle waste into useful gardening products and, hence, into our own version of The Good Life. This almost immediately led us to thoughts of the tremendous amounts of bark which I'd seen the woodworking trade do little or nothing with over the years."

The lumber industry in general (not just the woodworking section) has traditionally looked upon its bark by-product as "waste" instead of "resource" . . . and done little to discover uses for the material. Little wonder, then, that the "scrap" almost always winds up as landfill or very poor boiler fuel. Even the recent attempts to market the material on the West Coast as a soil conditioner have been less than satisfactory (largely because only nitrogen, in chemical form, is added to the bark in varying amounts giving—as might be expected—varying results).

"But it doesn't have to be that way," Nate told Onnalee.

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