Pay Dirt

In the ‘Mushroom Capital of the World,’ Laurel Valley Soils
creates the ground floor of green building

Laurel Valley Soils owes a large degree of its prosperity to the continued growth of the green-building movement. | Photos by Jared GruenwaldIt’s a bright mid-summer day in the rural Chester County borough of Avondale, which sits just a few miles north of the Delaware state border off Route 1. Tucked behind the winding, two-lane road known as Penn Green is a vast manufacturing facility spread out over what seems to be an endless tract of farmland. This is Laurel Valley Soils.

LVS is a producer of compost and the facility itself consists almost entirely of heavy machinery and endless mounds of steaming dirt. Between the bulldozers and the dirt sheds and the neatly arranged windrows of soil that stretch on as far as the eye can see, nothing less than the very ground floor of the ecologically sustainable construction industry is being built on these 125 acres.

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From Around Here: Whole Foods Market program bolsters local producer Organic Mechanics Soil Company

In 2007, a flyer for a new Whole Foods Market program caught the eye of Mark Highland, founder and president of Organic Mechanics Potting Soil. It asked for local producers who had products that were grown, raised, harvested or crafted within 100 miles from a Whole Foods Market store (measured as the crow flies). Highland had such a product. His 100 percent organic potting soil and planting mix was made outside of Philadelphia in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and used locally sourced ingredients, so he applied. “I got lucky,” he says. 

Whole Foods Market brought him onboard and used his company as an advertisement for the program when it began it in 2007. Previously called Local, the program name was changed in the summer of 2013 to From Around Here to be more specific and get away from the fuzzy definition of local. 

Through the program, Whole Foods Market wanted a way to share the stories of the companies it was endorsing with its customers—to help bridge the gap between producer and consumer and to promote the shared dedication to environmental sustainability. “When you tell the whole story, then that transparency tends to build a connection,” Highland says. “It compels [customers] to pick up a bag and try it right then and there.” And before long, “we have a customer for life.”

Whole Foods Market eventually started selling Organic Mechanics products in multiple markets, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, the Mid-Atlantic region, the Northeastern region and most recently the Midwest, although the company still gets most of its business from local stores. From Around Here products in Whole Foods Market stores that are beyond the 100 miles away are highlighted using a “From Pennsylvania” signs and call-outs. 

According to Highland, the support he has received as a result of From Around Here has bolstered Organic Mechanics and helped increase sales. “When people learn that Whole Foods is one of our major customers … it’s an impressive thing,” Highland says, adding that the name recognition has prompted other companies to sell his products. 

Highland is looking forward to attending Philly Farm & Food Fest. The event is a good way for him to come face to face with customers and to share his story about wanting to create a nutrient-dense organic soil that touted earth-friendly benefits. Highland says that using Organic Mechanics soil cultivates healthier produce, makes the planet more sustainable, groundwater safer to drink, promotes cleaner air and helps keep your family healthier. “Even if you’re a family of one,” he says. 

Organic Mechanics Container Blend Potting Soil is ideal for container gardens, transplanting, tropical and indoor plants, and because it’s peat-free, you'll water half as often. To purchase, head to your nearest Whole Foods Market or visit