Inventor builds manure fork out of obsession

| Print |  Email
Articles - January 2010
Monday, November 16, 2009
fork
Berto and his Shake'n Fork

The route to creating a mechanized pooper scooper began, as do many inventor journeys, with another obsession, one that was financially foolhardy, yes, but what obsession comes cheap?

Joseph Berto is a jack-of-all-trades who has been inventing things since he was 14. “It’s basically what I do,” says the 51-year-old helicopter pilot/rancher/logger/firefighter. The obsession presented itself to him one day about 12 years ago. He had sold his California business and moved to Medford to start over. (“An inventor is an optimist,” he says). One day he was driving past the shuttered Medco sawmill. The company was formed during the Depression out of the bankrupt Owen-Oregon firm. One remaining artifact after the mill was closed in the late 1980s was the elegant “White House,” an office building built in 1927.

“I was driving by it one day and thinking about building a house,” Berto says. Instead, he spent $80,000 buying the old office, which was days away from being bulldozed. “Financially, you had to have rocks in your head,” he says.

Berto disassembled the structure and moved the pieces to his horse ranch in White City. “I didn’t look at it for seven more years,” Berto says. But eventually, he started putting the building back together.

This is where we get back to the pooperscooper.

“I had been in anguish trying to find a product to invent to supplement our income,” Berto says. “I wasn’t making money from my other inventions or in piloting helicopters, and I had just started in on this crazy house. Then I had a brilliant vision of a better manure fork.” The brilliant vision started with the prosaic fact that a horse produces about 30 pounds of manure a day, and mucking (de-pooping) those stalls is a lot of work. Berto and his wife board and train horses, and manure volume is something he’s expert at. So Berto developed the Shake’n Fork, which looks like a fork but has a small motor and rechargeable battery to produce a “unique” shaking motion that captures the solid matter (Slogan: “It’s mucking incredible.”). Berto has been selling the fork online for two years for $167 and estimates he’s sold between 500 and 1,000, or “not that many.” A YouTube video of Berto demonstrating the fork has been viewed about 2,300 times.

Back to the obsession. Berto has taken 2,500 square feet of the 5,000-square-foot historic office building and turned it into an office and manufacturing area for the fork. He hopes to turn the rest of it into a new home; he and his wife now live in a mobile home on the property. The rehab was helped along by former Medford Corporation CEO Bob Higgins. Higgins was head of Medco from 1974 to 1984, when Harold Simmons acquired the company. Higgins says he contacted Simmons, who sold the company in the late 1990s, and Simmons “made a very generous donation.”

But that and the current revenue from the fork sales aren’t enough to fund the rest of the rehab, and Berto has hopes of finding a strategic marketing partner to take sales from 100 forks a month to a thousand. “That requires resources that I don’t possess,” he says. “We go to horse shows and breed shows and hope that somebody will recognize the goodness [of the fork].”

“Joseph’s done a great job,” says Higgins, who spent a decade in the White House. “He’s put a lot of time and money in that building. I hope somewhere along the line he will get some reward out of it.”


ROBIN DOUSSARD
 

More Articles

10 Innovators in Rural Health

July/August 2015
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

Telemedicine, new partnerships and real estate diversification make health care more accessible in rural Oregon.


Read more...

Photo Log: Shooting 10 innovators in rural health care

The Latest
Monday, August 03, 2015
007blogBY JASON E. KAPLAN | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

You may have noticed the photos of our rural health innovators departed from the typical Oregon Business aesthetic.


Read more...

Up on the Roof

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER

In 2010 Vanessa Keitges and several investors purchased Portland-based Columbia Green Technologies, a green-roof company. The 13-person firm has a 200% annual growth rate, exports 30% of its product to Canada and received its first infusion of venture capital in 2014 from Yaletown Venture Partners. CEO Keitges, 40, a Southern Oregon native who serves on President Obama’s Export Council, talks about market innovation, scaling small business and why Oregon is falling behind in green-roof construction. 


Read more...

Farm in a Box

July/August 2015
Friday, July 10, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Most of the food Americans consume is trucked in from hundreds of miles away. Eric Wilson, co-founder and CEO of Gro-volution, wants to change that. So this past spring, the Air Force veteran and former greenhouse manager started work on an alternative farming system he claims is more efficient than conventional agriculture, and also shortens the distance between the consumer and the farm.


Read more...

Department of Self-Promotion

Linda Baker
Tuesday, August 04, 2015

061715-awards1Oregon Business wins journalism awards.


Read more...

The Private 150: From Strength to Strength

July/August 2015
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY KIM MOORE

Revenues in Oregon's private, for profit sector maintained solid growth as the economy continued to rebound.


Read more...

Storyteller in Chief: Power Player

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY LINDA WESTON

In 1996, after a 17-year career in the destination marketing industry, where I gained national standing as the CEO of the Convention & Visitors Association of Lane County, I was recruited by the founders of a new professional basketball league for women. The American Basketball League (ABL) hoped to leverage the success of the 1996 USA women’s national team at the Atlanta Olympics — much like USA Soccer is now leveraging the U.S. Women’s National Team’s victory in the World Cup. The ABL wanted a team in Portland, and they wanted me to be its general manager.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS