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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Urban organic farmer also operates a recycling business to care for the earth

Jim Schrock
Jim Schrock said Crystal Spring Creek runs through the farm.

Roots for Jim Schrock’s two ventures, Earthworks Recycling and Eden Urban Farm, emerged when he was 14 years old.

On the way home between Hartline and his family’s farm, he, his father and uncles would stop at the dump to salvage items to reuse on the farm.  A science teacher introduced him to Mother Earth News, a bi-monthly magazine about organic gardening and living lightly.

His mother’s family has lived in Spokane on and off for six generations, seven in Eastern Washington.  They lived on North Division before pioneering in Hartline south of Grand Coulee in the 1880s.  His father’s family started north of Hartline in 1883.

Jim’s father and brother still raise about 150 cattle, plus hay.  His family once had four square miles of farmland, but it was split over the years.

“We lived in Hartline.  Grandparents, uncles and aunts lived on the farm out of town,” he said.

During high school in 1973, Jim started picking up newspapers house-to-house in Hartline.  Every year his mother hauled a cattle truck full of newspaper to a packaging plant in Wenatchee.

After graduating and two quarters at Eastern Washington State College, he moved to Spokane and began earning a living by going door-to-door, picking up newspapers from 1977 to 1982.  He could make a living picking up from 2,000 houses a month.  He also picked up aluminum cans and cardboard.

In 1980, he opened Earthworks Recycling at 1904 E. Broadway with Rick Veland, a friend from Hartline.  It was a buy-back center for newspapers and aluminum cans.  Jim continued door-to-door pickups in the Hartline area.

In 1985, they ran out of money.  Rick moved to Southwestern Washington, and Earthworks was closed for a few weeks. Jim got a $1,000 loan and reopened it.  He had kept current with paying money owed and avoided bankruptcy.

“Over the years, we began accepting more recyclable items and began charging to recycle things like junk mail,” he said. 

Now, even though many people put recyclables in the blue bins they set out at their curbs and pay the city to pick them up, Jim said there is still a market for recycling newspaper and cardboard. 

Paper he buys to recycle, he sells in Spokane County to make more newspaper at the Millwood paper mill.  The rest is sold to be made into building materials in Spokane.

Metals go to Portland or Puget Sound foundries, exporters or aggregators, who collect large amounts of metals from small dealers like Earthworks.

Electronics go to Puget Sound where they are safely dismantled by certified electronics recyclers. Some are sold at Schrock’s Secondhand Store.  Plastics are recycled, but there’s now a threat of a glut of TV tubes and glass.

“We have to match capacity with supply.  There is sometimes more material than can be processed into something else,” he said.

With curbside recycling, glass and plastic are mixed with paper, so he said there is a high contamination rate for paper.

Not counting electronics, clean green and other “new” recycling categories, Jim figures Spokane County’s rate of recycling is about the same as it was 20 years ago.

People must sort recyclables they bring to Earthworks. 

“We have a cleaner product with little effort,” he said.  “People still save items to bring to us.”

Before curbside recycling, Jim bought glass crushers, but with the glut on glass, the machinery is worthless unless interest in clean glass products revives.

A year and a half ago, Earthworks opened a second-hand store on the same block at 723 N. Napa St.  There he sells metals, copper tubing, furniture, brass light fixtures, books, vintage items, old magazines, moving boxes and building supplies, items too good to salvage or recycle.  The store is breaking even already, he said.

He likes to “find stuff at the recycling center to sell and reuse.”

Because so much metal is stolen, Earthworks is careful, taping transactions, recording ID and vehicle information of sellers, and paying according to Washington State and Spokane County law.  Many thieves eliminate themselves, because they lack a valid ID.

 In Spokane’s Vinegar Flats neighborhood, Jim owns 38 acres beside Latah Creek off Inland Empire Way for Eden Urban Farm.  It includes five houses, an apartment building and a greenhouse, plus root cellars from a 1920s carrot farm.  He bought 17 acres in 2003 from the family of a Chinese herbalist, who had bought it in the 1940s, and two years ago bought the other 21 acres to save  as farmland.  His house there was built in 1897.

He previously owned 1.3 acres on Maringo Dr. on the Spokane River across from Millwood as a precursor to this farm.

While his family’s farm is conventional, Eden Urban Farm uses organic practices, and is working toward certification. He is also updating it as a place to create a small community.

So far, he has cleaned out 400 cubic yards of trash, metal and wood from the creek banks and farm, with about 100 cubic yards more to clean.

Pat Mannhard does the farming. 

This year, Jim and his partner, Tarawyn Waters, will again sell produce at the Spokane Farmers Market, which opens May 10 and the Perry Street Thursday Market. 

He also sells to restaurants and hopes to triple their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscribers to 30 members this year. 

CSA is a partnership between farmers and customers, who pay “seed money” at the start of the growing season for a season’s worth of produce. 

Farmers provide a portion or “share” of the farm’s produce to each member.  Each week CSA subscribers pick up their boxes at a stand on the farm. 

“In good years, subscribers receive more vegetables, and in bad years, fewer,” Jim said.

In the greenhouse, they grow arugula, lettuce, kale, lettuce mix and starts for the field.  Besides familiar vegetables, they will also have produce like ground cherries, Japanese turnips and horseradish.  Urban Eden Farm uses only organic and non-GMO seeds.

“We use organic methods on the land, fertilizing with manure, coffee grounds, and brewery and winery waste,” he said.

In the early 1970s, he did hydroponics, compost bins and vermiculture (worms).

Growing up, Jim learned from his grandparents the value of the only things on their table—except the salt and pepper—being from the farm.  They grew their vegetables and fruit, and butchered their own pigs and cattle. 

For information, call 534-1638 or email jim@EarthworksRecycling.com or visit urbanedenfarm.com.

 





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