Smelly fertilizer nourishes tasty food

I would like to know what is the terrible smell that has been lingering around Central Point? It is so horrible I have to cover my nose just to get to my car after work. I asked my husband, and he suggested it is fertilizer. Is this true? And, if so, this only affirms why I eat organic now.

— Sandra S., Medford

Your question certainly got a few chuckles from the mucky-mucks here at Since You Asked headquarters, but not for the reasons you might imagine, Sandra.

We must warn you that the answers to your questions might upset your entire outlook on life. If you ever want to eat again, you might not want to read beyond this point.

Now that you have been forewarned, we can tell you that your husband is correct. He gets a gold star. The smell is fertilizer, and even a few sensitive snouts on the Since You Asked team have detected the odor in Medford.

To be specific, the smell is chicken manure that is spread every year on 1,000 acres for Stahlbush Island Farms, according to Phil VanBuskirk, interim superintendent for the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center. The farm is near West Main Street and Highway 238.

"They bring in huge truckloads," VanBuskirk said. "As soon as it rains the smell seems to linger."

In some years, the manure even brings flies, he said.

Sandra, you're probably thinking "gross" right now.

Well, we hate to break it to you, but Stahlbush Island Farms is, we repeat "is," an organic farm. The company produces vegetables for baby food and other products and is based in Corvallis. Stahlbush is a supplier for Amy's Kitchen in White City.

"It is the largest organic farm in Southern Oregon," VanBuskirk said.

The chicken manure is produced by, you guessed it, organic chickens.

Organic farmers often use chicken manure to boost the nutrients in soil.

Karla Chambers, who runs Stahlbush certified organic farms along with her husband, Bill, said, "We apologize that chicken manure stinks, but it does."

She said the manure is actually a chicken compost that has been heated to 180 degrees and provides vital nutrients for the farm's pumpkins, sweet corn, alfalfa, beans and other crops.

Chambers said her son, Carl Chambers, manages the farm near Medford.

She said her family has been farming in Oregon for 135 years.

Chambers and her husband started Stahlbush in 1985, then began contracting with Medford area farmers 15 years ago.

She said that 10 years ago, Stahlbush began its own farming operations in Medford.

Chambers said her husband helped create a bio-gas facility that takes waste from vegetable processing and converts it into enough electricity for 1,100 homes.

Stahlbush likes the longer growing season in the Medford area, as well as the hotter summers, Chambers said.

Sandra, if you've been eating organic food for some time, you've probably eaten stuff that was grown in manure.

So, we suggest you keep eating, but the next time you cover your nose, remember that the offensive smell will produce something very tasty, maybe even mouth watering.

As the song says, "Ooh, that smell."

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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