Getting the Call
Not long after that, Zorn says his father had stopped by the Jamestown Municipal Landfill looking for material for Rodd’s mulch operation. The elder Zorn knew the landfill had been accumulating wood and green waste for better than nine years—the size of the pile at the entrance to the site left no doubt about that—so he dropped off a Z’s Trees business card.
Rodd Zorn quickly learned that the landfill had new management in place and their focus was on getting rid of the existing pile and restarting a composting operation that had been unwisely abandoned years before. To do so, they had contracted with a local company to grind the debris.
“But we found out they’d been unable to make any progress at all,” he says. “Apparently they were getting killed with maintenance-related downtime, so the landfill operator was looking for someone who could come in on short notice and get the job done.”
Two things were definitely working in Zorn’s favor. First, he had just taken delivery of the Model 1200, replaced the teeth and had it ready to get to work. Second, an unbelievably wet spring had left the ground so saturated throughout the state that the shelter belt operation was, literally, dead in the water. He called the landfill and agreed to take the job.
Grinding Out a Victory
Starting work at the landfill site was not as easy as one might think. Zorn says the green waste drop-off area was so full (he guesses that it had to be in excess of 3,000 tons of debris) and so congested that they had to set up on the road just to grind enough material to clear out a space for the tub grinder to operate.
“That first week, all we did was clear out areas to work; it was just a logistical nightmare,” he says. “And, keep in mind, residents and commercial customers were still dropping off material while all this was going on. There were many times when I was wishing they could have suspended drop offs for that first couple weeks to allow us to really make some headway, but we still managed to make it work.”
Things at the site were made worse by the composition of the material itself. Because the green waste had sat for so long, much of the grass and brush had long since decomposed. That material, combined with the almost non-stop rains in spring, created what appeared to be wood mixed with a thick muddy substance. It all served to make grinding a real challenge. Zorn says a combination of impressive equipment performance and a different approach to feeding the material helped alleviate many of the problems that had plagued the previous grinding effort.
“The 1200 tub has been outstanding right from the moment we brought it to the site,” he says. “It was obviously built for severe-duty applications, and this more than qualifies for that. But even the best grinder in the world will not be able to handle a steady diet of nothing but muddy material, so we’ve gotten a bit creative in how we feed it. We look around for all the largest pieces of wood debris and make sure that every tubful has a decent mixture of wood and the muddy green waste. That keeps the mill from clogging up, downtime for us has been almost nil, and the customer is impressed with what we’ve been able to do in such a short time. You can’t beat that.”
Change of Direction
While Z’s Trees now has a full-scale mulch operation it runs under the name Dakota Mulch, the material at the landfill is so wet and dirt-filled that it has virtually no commercial value. Instead, the landfill operator has chosen to use material from the grinding operation as alternative daily cover for the site. That inaugural grinding operation has, however, opened Zorn’s eyes to a whole new world of possibilities for the company.
“Having the Morbark Model 1200 allows us to tackle jobs we never could have gotten before,” he says. “For example, municipal landfills throughout the state are quickly filling up. Offering to grind their green waste—and take the material away afterwards, rather than leaving it onsite—is a huge benefit to them. Similarly, in Minot, they are looking at a massive volume of trees which will have to be removed and disposed of. We are hoping to be able to come in, grind those trees, take the mulch and help them avoid clogging their own landfill.”
While some of Zorn’s chipped material goes for use by farmers in composting applications or as animal bedding, the majority of it is shipped to the Fibrominn plant in Benson, Minn., the first power plant in the U.S. designed to burn poultry litter (with wood chips) as its main source of fuel. Mulch continues to gain in popularity, however, and Zorn likes the direction they seem to be headed.
“When we started out, we were essentially just stockpiling chips on property we own. But I’ve worked hard to establish markets for the material we generate, and feel the Morbark tub grinder will now allow us to shift our focus even more. In fact, I can see us gradually moving away from the residential side of things entirely and possibly even adding a second grinder in a year or so. This is one productive machine; I don’t think there’s anything it can’t grind. And we are really excited for what lies ahead for us.”