When Tom Hoversen, co-owner of Comarco Products, graciously welcomed me into his facility, I was simply overwhelmed with the scale of production. I thought to myself “I must be dreaming.” This absolutely impressive operation with three functional processing lines takes fresh eggplant and turns it into all sorts of fried creations – eggplant fries, eggplant cutlets, eggplant bacon – every Italian’s dream! Have you noticed my last name? This is some of the best eggplant parm I’ve ever had and there is no mess in my kitchen. But after the tour and glitter, it was time to get down to business. These folks have come all the way from Camden, NJ, to make themselves a nest here in Putnam County so it’s important to make them feel welcome. Our first order of business was to find them some local eggplant. Last December, there were no local growers in the Tri-County Agriculture Area that grew any substantial acreage. However, after we hosted another impressive tour for interested farmers, Wesley Wells seized the opportunity to grow 10 acres of eggplant for Comarco. There is still plenty of room for local farmers to partner with Comarco if they are interested in growing eggplant, but at least we’ve secured a local source. Comarco is a year-round facility that operates 24-7, so they need lots of eggplant – around 150,000 lbs per week and even more as their operation expands.
Coming from Jersey, they absolutely love the southern hospitality and warm welcome they’ve received from Putnam County residents. Tom is certainly a story-teller and he’s got some great one-liners that will keep you amused while you’re still amazed. I’ve never seen someone peel an entire eggplant in three seconds flat. The next order of business what finding a home for all these delicious eggplant peels. It was simply nonsensical to be paying to haul and dispose them in our local landfill. Residents generate enough real trash that needs to be buried in the landfill grave. Eggplant peels or fried eggplant that is a bit wonky should be supplemental nutrition for our extensive livestock community in Putnam County. So we collected both raw and fried eggplant and had the samples analyzed by Dairy one Forage Testing Laboratory in Ithaca, NY. Low and behold, this is some good eatin’ grub and if you watch this 50 second video you’ll see for yourself how much the cows love it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2_sSqg-v_8.
These are some happy cows at Spring Ranch in Crescent City. New owner, Larry Downs, is making sure his cows don’t go hungry while he renovates his pastures and develops a sustainable forage cropping system. In the meantime, Larry is making sure his precious, spoiled donkeys and the lactating cows don’t go hungry. From a healthy biome perspective, these co-products are a much better choice for the rumen (i.e. cow stomach) than grain. If I can get a bit technical, dry matter (DM) concentrations of the raw and fried eggplant were 50 and 55%, respectively, which are higher than locally available cabbage (9%), potato (21%), or wet brewer’s grain (19%). Two major points of relevance are (1) we are not spending money to haul a bunch of water and (2) the nutritional uptake by the animal is significant because they aren’t just filling up on water. Crude protein for the fresh eggplant (8.6% as fed basis) was higher than cabbage (2.2%), potato (2.1%), brewer’s grain (4.4%), and “jiggs” bermudagrass (4.8%), but lower than pearl millet (13%) and sorghum sudangrass (10%). Total digestible nutrients followed the same trend on an as-fed basis. And that’s not to mention the healthy micronutrients like iron (105 ppm), zinc (25 ppm), copper (14 ppm) and manganese (29 ppm) on a dry matter basis. The key to making alternative feedstocks successful is they must be readily available and economically feasible. Comarco is now local and they are the “eggplant people” with over 90% of the market share on processed eggplant sales in the US. And I don’t know how to become more economically feasible than free. So Tom, Larry and I believe that this is win-win for everyone.