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Growing Self-Sufficiency

Marshall, Minn. — Mark Altman has covered a lot of turf in his career.

The agronomist has worked in well-known sports venues such as Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots; Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies; Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego and Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, home of the College World Series.

Now he’s using his success to help the less fortunate.

Working with a humanitarian organization in Canada, Altman is developing a low-cost, natural garden fertilizer that will be distributed to low-income families in the United States and Canada. The goal is to help people in need help themselves.

“As far as self sufficiency goes, one of the easiest things people can do is grow their own food,” Altman says.

With his wife Sandra, Altman provides consulting services for sports fields, golf courses, lawns, green houses, nurseries, hydroponic operations and effluent-water reuse facilities. Work has taken them to South Korea, Mexico and Canada.

Going global to benefit local

Altman’s natural fertilizer will be shipped to Canada for distribution through churches and other participating entities in the United States and Canada. While the end users could be anywhere, the fertilizer uses ingredients from southwest Minnesota.

Alan Doering, AURI coproducts senior scientist, is working with Altman to develop the fertilizer blends with ingredients such as alfalfa meal, feather meal, distillers dried grains, chicken litter and beet molasses. Doering pelleted and crumbled several blends, which Altman tested in growth chambers.

“The blends are good quality, have good nutrient availability and favorable economics,” Doering says. “Best of all, the ingredients are all available locally so the economic activity and jobs stay local.”

AURI also connected Altman with a southwestern Minnesota manufacturer that will produce, bag and initially ship 250,000 to 500,000 bags of the garden fertilizer.

The AURI project is one of several supported by federal funds through the USDA’s Rural Business Enterprise grant program.

The all-natural fertilizer has an NPK value of about 4-1-3 and 8 percent calcium. Altman says if he can bump up the nitrogen content slightly, the blend could have other uses in lawns, roadside seeding and even in organic farming. For now, the fertilizer will be used to help others put food on the table.

“This business has been good to me,” Altman says, “so I try to do things like this that are positive and give back.”