Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Milwaukee

Purple Cow Organics: A Life-Energizing Boost for Mother Earth

Dec 28, 2011 03:51PM ● By Linda Sechrist

Although Shakespeare’s famous phrase, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” tells us that what matters most is what something is, not what it is called, Sandy Syburg, founder of Purple Cow Organics, would beg to differ when it comes to soil. “At Purple Cow Organics, we have a rule: We never call soil, ‘dirt,’” Syburg says. “Dirt—clay, sand and silt—are the mineral components of soil. Dirt is the thing that gets you in trouble when you track it into the house,” he explains with an engaging grin.

Mother Earth’s most essential ingredients in any handful of her terra firma are the tens of thousands of different beneficial microorganisms that contribute to the health of the soil and make it a living bio-identity. Syburg’s passion, which he turned into a business, is helping this biological life to thrive by enlivening the foodweb for microorganisms. “The life in soil keeps it healthy, so that it promotes root growth, replenishes soil nutrients, increases the nutrient uptake of plants and helps organic matter to break down,” advises Syburg, who notes that often, the availability of nutrients is directly related to microbial growth in soil. This is why Mother Earth needs the helping hand of his leaf-based Purple Cow Organics Activated Compost. “In as little as a tablespoon of our Purple Cow, there are more than a million beneficial living organisms,” he says. “Some are so miniscule that 25 of them could fit inside the period at the end of a sentence.”

Syburg’s inspiration for his business of feeding the Earth grew from his childhood. “I learned a lot from my grandparents, who were not only farmers, but also true stewards of the land who felt a sense of responsibility to care for the soil,” says Syburg, whose personal adult farming experience is actually minimal. “For instance, they taught me that raked leaves and crop residual waste were resources, rather than something to be picked up by waste management and hauled off to the landfill,” he adds.

Syburg’s idea for selling topsoil combined with living compost blossomed in the early 1990s, after he had been operating as White Oak Farm (WOF). “I had been in the topsoil business for a few years when I realized that all the major conventional soil brokers were simply selling earth they had purchased from developers of housing subdivisions or from construction sites where commercial buildings were erected,” he recalls. The epiphany led to his decision to create soil of the highest quality by rescuing discarded yard and brush residuals from area communities and then converting it into the soil amendment known as compost.

“We were an early composter that had to relearn a 2,000-year-old process my grandmother was wise to use and teach me about,” recollects Syburg. “She encouraged me to gather up the raked leaves in our neighbors’ yards, load them in my pickup truck and deliver them to her vegetable garden.” Today, Syburg rescues and reuses yard and brush residuals in 35 Wisconsin cities, as well as produce residuals from places such as Whole Foods and the Willie Street Coop in Madison. He lives by his mantra: Nothing is waste until it is wasted.

From WOF’s humble beginnings in a home office at the farm, the company expanded to a 28-acre manufacturing facility in Mapleton. “We needed more space, as well as a building with railroad siding and blending capabilities for our bulk and bagged organic soil amendments,” comments Syburg. Through its organics conversion service, Purple Cow Organics annually processes and diverts 50,000 tons of material from Milwaukee area landfills. The company also forged alliances with bio-gas and organic agricultural fertilizer producers, and established a number of retail products, such as Purple Cow Transplant Mix.

Purple Cow Organics, LLC is the result of a merger between WOF and 2nd Season Recycling, in Madison. The company grew to 30 employees and six facilities in Milwaukee and Madison. “It only took me 20 years to become an overnight success,” quips Syburg, who proudly shares that Purple Cow Organics was named Industrial Food Residuals Composter and official composter for Farm Aid 25, held in 2010 at Miller Park and attended by more than 30,000.

“When people comment on the popularity of compost, I tell them that it’s important for them to understand that the quality of their food is a direct reflection of the quality of their soil,” says Syburg. “Composting is a great practice in the home garden, but many gardeners discover that their soils need more compost than they can create on their own. That’s where we come in.”

Purple Cow Organics can be delivered by the truckload from retailers that carry it in large quantities, or it can be purchased by the bag at local independent garden centers.

For more information, visit

Upcoming Events Near You

No Events in the next 21 days.

Digital Edition
Global Brief
Health Brief