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Redwood Valley’s North American Organics

Ukiah Daily Journal logo Ukiah Daily Journal 6/11/2021 Karen Rifkin
a truck driving down a dirt road: Salvador Meza runs the wind row machine, mixing and aerating layers of mushroom compost, rice hulls, lava sand and sawdust, into a warm, luscious row of new Garden Mix.  (Photos by Karen Rifkin) © Provided by Ukiah Daily Journal Salvador Meza runs the wind row machine, mixing and aerating layers of mushroom compost, rice hulls, lava sand and sawdust, into a warm, luscious row of new Garden Mix. (Photos by Karen Rifkin)

Shannon Johnson, a Redwood Valley gal, had been waitressing at Club Calpella for some time, serving regulars like Dave Lowe, a Friday regular, the then-current co-owner of North American Organics out on Held Road.

“It was about 15 years ago and he asked me if I wanted to drive the delivery dump truck for them,” says Shannon. “Absolutely, I said.”

The next time she served him, she had to admit that she really wasn’t very good at backing up nor for that matter driving a truck.

He told her to come on down and he and his wife, Kathy, would put her to work in the office. She learned the ropes and gradually took over from the Lowes’ niece.

Tired of waitressing, done with it, she called Kathy to ask if she could get a full-time job with them.

“Absolutely, she said. When can you start? I said, two weeks.”

She worked hard learning the ins and outs, mentoring with Dave and Kathy and, two years ago, she and her husband, Scott, bought North American Organics from the Lowes.

They make a variety of mixes, some with some righteous Mendocino history.

a group of people standing next to a sign: Shannon and Scott Johnson, co-owners of North American Organics. (Photo by Karen Rifkin) © Provided by Ukiah Daily Journal Shannon and Scott Johnson, co-owners of North American Organics. (Photo by Karen Rifkin)

Scott’s father, Jimmy Johnson, head of the garden project and landscaping at Fetzer’s back in the ’80s, came to the Lowes with a list of ingredients for them to make a Garden Mix, what became their house blend—an all-purpose mix, ideal for flowers and vegetables, of mushroom compost, rice hulls, sawdust, and a small amount of lava sand, used directly in the ground or in planter boxes, great lawns.

“If you make this mix, we’ll buy 40 cubic yards from you every year,” he told them.

They did and he did.

At about the same time, Richie Fetzer, an early acolyte to organic farming, would disc chicken and cow manure and diatomaceous earth into the ground before he planted, coming up with the idea for their Farmer’s Mix used for breaking up large pieces of ground that have not been planted in a while but not recommended for general gardening.

“Small backyard grape farmers come in for this mix.”

Then Jimmy came up with another idea for a mix—50/50—that contains half screen dirt and half Farmers mix used for similar purposes as the Farmer’s Mix.

“We can sell 500 to 1,000 yards a year of this; landscapers use it for local jobs. A lot of it was used in rebuilding when they removed all of the dirt from the fires in Redwood Valley; we deliver free to those who were affected by the fire.

“It can be made into mounds; there’s so much dirt in it that it stays where you put it. You can put grass seed right on it.”

They also donate free soil and provide free delivery to schools, Veteran’s organizations and the Senior Center and provide financial  support to various groups

“We just got a call from the Hopland Charter School to purchase some soil from us but we’re giving it to them for free.”

Garden Mix, 50/50, Farmer’s Mix, SpyRock Blend, Rubens Mix and the Angry Hippie (must call ahead for this one) comprise their line of North American Organics originals.

Other products available in cubic yards include Perfect Potting Soil from their Heritage Organics line; Happy Hippie, Native Blend and Cascade Worm Castings from their California Soils line; and Victory Mix/Sea Blend, Dutchman Coco-Coir and Wood Compost from their Sanctuary Soils line.

They source from all over: organic chicken and cow manure are trucked up from Petaluma; mushroom compost from Monterey Mushrooms; lava sand from Clearlake Lava; rice hulls from Victory Ag in Eltopia, WA.; four lighter blends, organic coco and organic certified worm castings from Pacific Landscape Supply in Vernalis; and sawdust and wood compost from local suppliers.

“We mix it all here and instead of buying it by the bag, it’s more economical and ecological—eliminating all the plastic—when you buy our mixes here by the cubic yard,” says Scott.

This morning, Salvador Meza, who worked alongside the Lowes for over two and a half decades making the mixes, is running their large wind row machine that rides alongside long neat rows, about two-and-a-half feet high, created with layers of mushroom compost, rice hulls, lava sand and sawdust.

The machine has a large tilling apparatus that comes up and over the row, kicking up a great deal of dust, as it combines and aerates the materials, reducing odor and creating a warm brown row of new Garden Mix, clean and fresh, brimming with energy and looking almost-good-enough-to-eat.

On the way out to watching Meza work, we pass large bays—one filled with Victory Mix/Sea Blend, good for hoop houses and flower pots; one with coconut fiber, crushed up coconut shells; one with chicken manure; one with lava sand and a very large bay filled with Garden Mix.

Past the rows of newly mixed-up Garden Mix is the compost barn where they store the SpyRock Mix, their hottest and densest combo consisting of chicken manure, cow manure, worm castings, mushroom compost, rice hulls and granite dust… to be used with caution.

In other areas of the barn are the new Garden Mix where they load customers, old Garden Mix from last year and mushroom compost.

“Every year when we run out of old Garden Mix from the year before, we take the old mushroom compost and make new old Garden Mix.”

Genuine relationships with people, caring about them, is Shannon’s gig.

“I am who I am with the Pope, I am who I am with you. I love taking care of people, interacting with them and with my community, being part of something that makes people feel good. We bring customer service to another level.

“I appreciate it when I feel that level of concern as a customer myself; regardless of cost, if you treat me well, I want to come back.

“We use only the finest-sourced materials and we create with consistency. I love our product—manure has been used for centuries for farmers to get high yield in their products. I believe in it; I use it.”


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