Laurel Valley Soils is the quintessential Southern Chester County business.
Born in 1979 out of a group of mushroom farmers’ collective desire to manage their post-harvest compost in an environmentally responsible manner, the Landenberg-based company develops highly specialized blends of compost and soil products for all sorts of projects.
And one of those happens to be perhaps the coolest redevelopment project that Philadelphia has undergone in years.
The grand opening for the first phase of the city’s long-awaited Rail Park is scheduled for June 14, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the services of Laurel Valley Soils.
The Rail Park, which is being constructed on the former Reading Railroad viaduct in the Callowhill section of the city, was inspired by New York City’s High Line Park. Having opened in 2009, High Line Park is an elevated park full of trees and flowers on a 1.45-mile-long railroad viaduct in lower Manhattan that attracts more than five million visitors a year and has spurred $4 billion in surrounding development.
Laurel Valley Soils played a key role in completing the first quarter-mile stretch of the Rail Park, built at a cost of $10.3 million. The company’s reputation for supplying their products to the horticultural industry and beyond – from landscapers and garden centers to professional turf management firms – helped it secure the monumental job of creating the soil and transporting 1,000 cubic yards of it to the city.
“Our origin is creating compost for the mushroom industry, but since then, we’ve created a whole menu of soil blends with mushroom compost as a core ingredient,” said Jake Chalfin, Sales Manager at Laurel Valley Soils. “The products we make are now being used in green infrastructure, and Philadelphia, with its 2030 goal of being America’s greenest city, is at the forefront of green infrastructure retrofitting.”
Construction on the Rail Park – overseen by Friends of the Rail Park, the Center City District, and Department of Parks and Recreation – began six years ago. And with the city’s wastewater treatment plants working at capacity, stormwater management was a key issue.
Thus, Laurel Valley Soils had to create products for the elevated park that would capture rainwater in its place, while supporting the newly installed trees and plants.
“Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in the country, and there’s little room to develop new there,” said Chalfin. “There’s a lot being redeveloped, and when that happens, you have to be proactive in designing landscapes so that the stormwater is managed on-site as much as possible. Features have to be put in place to capture the water runoff, as the goal is to minimize the amount of water sent to the wastewater treatment plants.”
Laurel Valley Soils, therefore, had to “over-engineer the soil” – as Chalfin put it – for the Rail Park.
“When you put nature in a box, which is what the Rail Park is, it doesn’t perform the same,” said Chalfin. “Interestingly, creating the soil was only half the challenge. The other half was transporting 1,000 cubic yards of it into the city.”
When the entire project is finished, the Rail Park will stretch three miles around the northern rim of Center City and, undoubtedly, be a great tourist attraction that gentrifies the neighborhood.
And a business in Southern Chester County will have laid the foundation. Literally.