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Crosswinds Blow at Long Island Compost

Long Island Compost is savior or villain, depending which way the wind blows

“Listen, this is not a good company,” says Charles Vigliotti, president and chief executive officer of Long Island Compost, with pronounced conviction. “This is a great company. Everybody talks about all the things that we do.”

And everybody does talk about them—both for and against.

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Clearly, the reputation of a company with compost in its name is a mixed bag. After all, it’s working in an odoriferous profession to begin with: Compost smells. Gardeners know that well—and so do some folks who live near the firm’s compost packaging facility in Yaphank and the politicians who represent them.

Yet the smelly stuff is also vital to a region like ours, which boasts the most productive agricultural county in New York State: Suffolk. There are also environmental and economic considerations for composting on a large scale. Getting rid of suburban yard waste is an expensive proposition for municipal taxpayers having to foot the bill to ship it off the Island. Recycling the material here instead of incinerating it or dumping it into landfills makes sense.

That’s the basic idea that Charles Vigliotti and his brothers Dominic and Arnold came up with two decades ago. But they weren’t going to rely on some backyard compost piles; they thought big—and succeeded. Now headquartered in Westbury, Long Island Compost manufactures more than 3.5 million bags of soil products (105 different kinds, Vigliotti says) for the retail and wholesale market. You can find their “engineered soils” (as they’re known) indoors at The New York Times’ new headquarters in Manhattan, outdoors at the Brooklyn Bridge Park and outside the Mets’ Citi Field in Queens. The company’s largest outlet is Home Depot, and their largest competitor is Scotts Miracle-Gro, based in Ohio.

Here on the Island, Vigliotti’s company has two transfer stations, a 3-acre site in Westbury and a 62-acre facility in Yaphank on Horseblock Road known as Great Gardens, where they run their wood-mulching, packaging and distribution operations, repair their equipment, and have a wholesale nursery and garden center. Composting is done on a network of participating farms.

“It’s a win-win for the farmers,” says Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. He says about 50 farmers on the East End are involved. They compost the materials on their farms, earn a small fee and in exchange get to use some of the compost for their own farming and planting needs.

“Long Island soils are what we call sandy loam,” Gergela explains. “They don’t have a lot of natural, organic things in the soil, so this is a way to build up the soil profile, which helps with water retention, the ability to grow the crops, and puts a little bit of nutrients back into the land so we don’t have to depend as much on chemical fertilizers. It’s a very excellent agronomical practice.”

Another advantage to the on-farm composting system, the company says, can be seen on the two remaining duck farms on the East End (once there were about 125 duck farms). The composting process “binds up” nitrogen from the duck manure that would otherwise pollute the water and harm the ecosystem.

Long Island Compost President and CEO Charles Vigliotti flanked by his brothers Dominic and Arnold, who co-founded the company 20 years ago.

According to Kevin McAllister, the Peconic Baykeeper, the company’s “an important contributor in keeping Long Island’s Peconic Bay and South Shore estuary clean and healthy. Several years back, uncontrolled nitrogen was seeping into our bays as a result of local duck farming. Long Island Compost … developed a protocol for handling the material and reduced the seepage and runoff of the duck waste that led to the problem.”

The company takes the composted manure to its Yaphank facility where it’s screened and packaged for sale. “Fantastic thing for a garden,” exclaims Vigliotti excitedly. “Something that would have been a detriment to the Peconic Bay is a tremendous asset to our gardens and homes as we’re growing our zucchini and our tomatoes.”

The flip side is that what makes compost so full of the nutrients and minerals that growing fruits and vegetables love best is rather hard on the nose of those living near where compost is made, especially in the large quantities that make a company like Long Island Compost profitable.

“If you live next door to a dump, it’s going to smell,” says Gergela. “There’s no avoiding that waste has odors.”

Long Island Compost’s Great Gardens facility is located in a part of south Yaphank zoned for industrial uses. Its neighbors include the Gruccis’ fireworks company and the Brookhaven Town landfill. But there are also some houses, a hotel and an apartment complex. Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley) represents the residents of South Yaphank and she echoed their concerns recently in a conversation with the Long Island Press.

“When you live next door to that [facility] and you smell it, and you breathe the air in, my God!” Browning says.

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