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 Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks

McGeary Keeps Up With Changing Times

Mar 29, 2013 01:01AM ● By Lauressa Nelson


McGeary Grain has evolved tremendously since its beginnings as Poorbaugh Grain in 1952. Yet, it has stayed true to its heritage in both the commitment to providing top-quality grain feed and its essence as a family-run company. Current co-owners Dave Poorbaugh and Randy Kilpatrick maintain the tradition of a caring workplace and family legacy as part of the McGeary culture, with a younger generation currently represented in the company’s small leadership team.

From its beginnings as a trader of commodity grains, mainly milled animal feed and wheat flour, McGeary has grown from trading only conventionally grown grains to including certified organic feed, specialty organic flours and organic fertilizers. The McGeary Grain and McGeary Organics divisions deal in both conventional and organic feed, feed ingredients, flours and fertilizers with facilities comprising mills and flourmills, plus a distribution fleet and rail facility.

The company’s commitment to natural and organic products and processing attracted Product Manager Neil Drebelbis, who specializes in organic fertilizers. “I’m a salesperson by trade, but the only way I can sell something is if it fits my personal beliefs,” he explains, noting that the company was ahead of the curve when it came to organics. “Here is a product I can hang my hat on and a company that has the wherewithal to do it right.”

In a prescient move more than a decade ago, McGeary Grains added feed created from organic grains, which means they are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation. “At first, the market seemed small, recalls Drebelbis, “but family farmers that rear their own animals for food, as well as small organic farms that sell eggs and dairy, were searching for organic feed,” he notes. “There were even a few unlikely customers, such as those raising chickens in rooftop gardens of Manhattan condos,” he chuckles.

In 2000, McGeary searched for a mill where the integrity of processing 100 percent organic flour could be maintained, as part of its commitment to becoming a certified organic facility, a standard it achieved in 2002. The company purchased the historic LeRoy Brandt Mill and revived the storied Daisy Flour brand. The mill has been operating since 1740, making it the oldest of its kind in the United States. Its turn-of-the-century mechanical processes create flour that is lighter and fluffier than can be achieved by modern mills, says Drebelbis. Daisy Flour is a specialty prized by top pastry chefs and shipped to fine hotels throughout the country. The majority of the retail market, however, remains in the mid-Atlantic region, through natural food stores, community supported agriculture organizations and small grocery store chains.

McGeary Organics has continued to build its name as a pioneer in organic agricultural commodities, employing a professional agronomist to formulate its line of organic, manure-free fertilizers, made from plant-based compost and naturally occurring, U.S.-mined mineral deposits. Organic fertilizers work by enriching the soil with natural minerals and organic matter to improve its long-term quality. By harnessing the power of healthy, fertile soil, organic gardeners cultivate vibrant plants, fruits and vegetables.

“For vegetable gardeners, the organic results speak for themselves,” says Drebelbis, who adds that he receives calls regularly from happy gardeners. “I had a call from a woman yesterday who had bought a bag of the organic fertilizer last year; she is an avid gardener that grows her own and cans and freezes it. As an experiment, she used our fertilizer on only half of her garden, while tending the other half with her usual methods. Her results were increased production of fruits and vegetables that had better taste and texture,” he tells, noting that while farmers might get better yield from synthetic fertilizers, flavor and quality are enhanced with organic fertilizers and healthy soil. Most importantly, organic fertilizers are naturally slow to release their nutrients, creating very little runoff into groundwater, lakes and streams. This is important to environmentalists that are concerned that synthetic fertilizers may wash high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus downstream into the waters that feed the Chesapeake Bay, for example, causing algae blooms that create dead zones and kill wildlife.

For a company that is accustomed to selling by the tractor-trailer load, selling to the retail consumer market marks a major shift. Although agriculture is still dominated by conventional farming methods, McGeary Organics continues to innovate, and now the retail consumer trend is catching up. “People are waking up and starting to wonder what they are eating,” notes Drebelbis, who is spearheading the effort to get organic fertilizers into the retail market. “I feel good about what I do because I realize that I may be making some tiny impact that affects the nutritional value of what people are putting in their mouths. I’m doing something positive and in the right direction."

McGeary Grain and McGeary Organics are based in Lancaster. For more information including places to find McGeary products, call 717-394-6843 (local) or 800-624-3279, or visit

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