Hog Farms and Wind Power Have the Potential to Save Local Farms Thousands in Iowa

 

The top state in the country for producing pork, Iowa produces billions of dollars a year from over 6,000 hog farms. With costs only rising, some farmers are looking for ways to cut down on bills. Combining two of Iowa’s strengths, hog farms and wind power, has the potential to save local farmers thousands of dollars every year by controlling input costs and eliminating electricity bills.

Rob Hach, the owner of Anemometry Specialists with his wife, Tara, started a division of the company called Wind and Solar Specialists, which focuses on developing projects for those interested in renewable energy. They work with the client from start to finish, meeting with farmers and utilities companies, helping with installation, guiding the process and seeing the project to its final steps. “We’ll go out and assess their need and put up a solar or turbine or a hybrid system with utilizing both resources,” said Hach. “Every project is different. We haven’t had an identical project yet. We’ll find out their electrical load, what their tax bill looks like, and we’ll get the right equipment. We really come in and we partner with our customers to make sure they’re getting the right equipment for their project.”

Two of his recent clients, Terry Murray and Arvid Baughman, have both installed Bergey turbines on their farms, receiving state and federal incentives to help build their turbines and erase a long-term cost of running their farms. Murray is a fifth generation Iowa farmer, running a 3,000-head hog farm. Murray is now saving nearly $10,000 a year, while Baughman is saving about $4,000 a year on his 750-hog farm. Murray’s four Bergey turbines have erased his electricity costs for the next 30 years. With land prices, fertilizer and other farm maintenance costs rising, the farmers were looking for a way to cut something out. “They wanted to no longer worry about their electric prices going up, and they wanted to do something about it,” said Hach.

Hach’s experience with renewable energy began when he was a child. In 1977, his father started selling wind turbines, and Hach remembers seeing them sit, temporarily, in the front yard before being transported to a client. In the 1980s, his father began working with larger turbines and following projects all over the nation. The Hach family left their farm in Iowa and traveled to Colorado, Maryland and Illinois before returning to Iowa. There, Hach began learning more about the field, and in 2002, he and Tara started their company. “Growing up, there were always people interested in generating their own electricity. They own it, it’s theirs, and they don’t have to pay for electricity again,” said Hach. “There’s always been an interest. It’s increasing these days, because people are aware of the environment and their surroundings and that they need to be doing something. We have a lot more consumers out there doing their research and understanding what the opportunity is.”

The company, which started with two employees, now boasts 30 people and is looking to expand. They already have a national presence, with projects extending from coast to coast. They are also developing partnerships with companies that provide similar things, in order to provide clients with complimentary services. Because government incentives for building turbines and solar panels are localized, the company looks for areas and clients where incentives are appealing. The incentives help fund projects, and vary from state to state and even region to region. “I like coming to work every day,” said Hach. “You feel good about what you’re doing. You drive by a project that you developed for a customer, and it looks great. You hear how happy they are about the project and it just feels good. It’s a wholesome feeling you have at the end of the day.”

The fight for renewable energy is constant, said Hach, who experiences constant changes in wind and solar energy federal incentives. Other energy resources, such as coal, oil and gas, have fixed incentives and do not face the same struggles. Hach wants to encourage consumers to make the choice to buy renewable energy and renewable fuels. Encouraging the implementation of clean and renewable energy can be done in two ways: “Legislatively by changing laws,  which is slow and has a lot of hurdles,” said Hach, “And going to the store. Your dollars have more impact than your legislatures do. Choose who to buy a product from.”

Providing a demand for clean energy and fuel is the simplest, easiest way to encourage the support of businesses, farms and schools that use renewable energy sources. “They make a choice with their dollars,” said Hach, who selects his own products, such as beer and cell phone suppliers, based on the energy sources the companies use. “Companies such as Google and Microsoft are using more and more renewable energy to power their businesses. When I buy a product, I make sure I buy products from companies that buy their electricity from renewable energy,” said Hach. “We’re really in this together. Renewable energy is about employing people.”

Originally published on DWEA’s website during December 2014.

A 64-year-old Farm Owned by Three Brothers has Recently Added a New Crop: Wind

 

Kevin, Ed and Rich Doody grew up on the dairy farm their parents established in 1949 with 35 cows and fewer than 80 acres. The farm, now home to 350 cows, is 12 miles south of Syracuse, NY, in a small town called Otisco. The brothers’ parents also grew up in the area, going to local churches and schools. Their father, Larry, passed away six years ago, and their mother, Avis, continues to take care of the farm’s accounting. “It’s been in our blood our whole life,” said Ed.

Continuing the tradition, the brothers raised their ten children on the farm. “The kids have all enjoyed the country lifestyle we have out here,” said Ed, who has three children. “It’s not just a job. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a full-time commitment. The cows are here and they have to be taken care of. Someone has to always be there on Sundays. Sometimes a cow has a calf at night. I’m usually on call in the middle of the night when something comes up.”

With the commitment to the lifestyle, the rising costs of maintaining a farm, and the increasing news coverage over the past three years on the limited resources of carbon and oil, the brothers began to consider other options. They have three employees and earn all of their income from the milk that they sell, as well as maintaining 900 acres of corn, alfalfa, barley and hay to feed the cows.

Their research began in the west, learning about the use of turbines in Wisconsin, where farmers used and spoke highly of the Endurance 3120 Turbine that Ed was interested in. Encouraged, Ed attended seminars and found CEC Energy, which installs wind turbines and is a division of Cazenovia Equipment Company. The farm has been a long-time client of Cazenovia, which is a large John Deere subsidiary in New York State. CEC Energy helped the farm with permits, qualifications for federal grants, and calculating the amount of wind the farm would receive.

Living on a hilltop in a windy area has proven ideal to harness a sustainable energy source. The 174-foot-tall Endurance 3120 Turbine, which the farm owns, was installed on September 25, 2012, eighteen months after initial inquiry. It has powered about 240,000 kilowatts since then. Rated at 50 kilowatts, the turbine will run at 60 or 70 kilowatts with a strong wind. It is computer-controlled, can take care of itself and possesses a lot of sensors that safeguard against system faults. “We’re happy with the performance over all. I expect we’ll go year after year with the machine,” said Ed. “None of neighbors are close by enough to be bothered by it, and no one has mentioned it’s unsightly. We don’t get a lot of compliments about it.”

Following the success of the farm’s turbine, all three families decided to lease their own, smaller, 10-kilowatt Bergey turbine to power their homes, bringing their turbine total up to four. Bergey Wind Power is a company in Oklahoma, which has been making turbines for the past 30 years. CEC Energy installed the turbines, which are leased through United Wind, a company founded in 2013 that offers affordable leasing to small wind consumers. Some of the farm’s neighbors have turbine-powered homes, and they are all happy with their experience, said Ed. Ed opted to fully prepay his 20-year turbine lease for $20,000 and expects payback in about five years on his investment. The lease guarantees 16,000 kilowatts per year. The turbines for their home were installed this summer and started generating electricity a few weeks ago. With adding an additional source of electricity, Ed and his wife, Kathy, are especially looking forward to eliminating the extensive chore of chopping firewood for heat. “The large turbine is directly across from our home. There’s no noise or interference and it’s not annoying to listen to,” said Ed. “My wife says it’s like change in your pocket. When it’s running, you make a little money.”

In addition to investing their money, they’re making choices for their future. “We pay a large fuel bill to run our tractors. That’s only going to get higher after time. So are electric bills. It makes good economic sense to us to put up the turbines,” said Ed. “It’s the wave of the future. We can’t be committed to carbon and oil forever.”

Originally published on DWEA’s website during October 2014.

Cooking Matters

 

Simple, Effective and Healthy Cooking on a Budget

Erin Jolley is the coordinator of Cooking Matters, a non-profit organization under Share our Strength, a national program working to end childhood hunger. Share our Strength uses state partnerships through Cooking Matters and No Kid Hungry to further its mission. “Cooking Matters accomplishes this mission by providing low income families with information and skills they need to cook healthy on a limited budget,” said Jolley.

Jolley organizes cooking classes and grocery store tours, guides at-risk families to food and nutrition assistance, and provides culinary education to at-risk schools. Jolley also works with subsidized housing and nutrition assistance organizations to make sure that families get the information that they need.

A core part of Jolley’s work is Cooking Matters’ education courses. She finds culinary professionals in town who can help the program. “I scout out who is passionate about not just cooking, but community,” said Jolley. “I find people who want to take their talents beyond their own kitchen.”

Jolley then trains the chefs to teach their skills to a diverse audience. “I slow them down enough to making it simple and delicious,” said Jolley. “We try to make cooking fun.”

Jolley also scours the county area to find volunteers, provide training and showcase demonstrations. Two years ago, an opportunity arose in the form of Durango Cooks, a local cooking show. Louisa Drouet, the host of the cooking show and outreach coordinator for Nature’s Oasis, offered the chance to collaborate with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado program and Ryan Lowe at the Ore House Restaurant. The idea was to spotlight Cooking Matters on the show, utilizing Lowe to teach the participants of Big Brothers Big Sisters. “This was an opportunity to create a good relationship with mentors and eat healthy,” said Jolley. “Ryan shared very simple but effective techniques to make food taste good, using fresh, local ingredients while having fun in the kitchen.”

When Jolley first approached Lowe, he was intrigued by her idea and won over by her enthusiasm. “The thing that most appealed to me was the community aspect, showing people that local food is available,” said Lowe. “Local food isn’t all about fine dining.”

The six weeks began with a garden tour of Twin Buttes, where the children were able to pick fresh vegetables, which was also an exciting event for Lowe. “I just wanted to pull raw vegetables out of the ground and eat them,” said Lowe. “There’s video from Durango TV of little kids eating beets fresh out of the ground.”

The volunteers for Cooking Matters benefited as well from the partnership with the Ore House. At the end of 2013, the Ore House hosted a volunteer appreciation party for all the volunteers of Cooking Matters in the tri-county area. The party brought together 50 out of the 120 culinary and nutrition volunteers in the area. “There are a lot of people in this community who care,” said Jolley.

Lowe cooked a large spread for the volunteers, who also enjoyed a slideshow of the year in review. “It was a big treat for Cooking Matters and all the volunteers to go to such a quality restaurant such as the Ore House,” said Jolley. “It meant a lot to the volunteers and to me.”

Cooking Matters fits in very well with the Ore House’s mission to not only prepare local, organic and sustainable food, but to support local growers and volunteers as well. “It’s been a natural partnership. Ryan has the skills and vision and we have a captive audience that can benefit from what the Ore House has to offer,” said Jolley. “There are other very generous chefs and business owners, but the Ore House sets a prime example for how businesses can work with nonprofits and educational initiatives.”

Originally posted on the Ore House’s website during March 2014.

The Bottom Line: Processing

 

Breeding and raising an animal is only the first step in the journey from farm to table. The cow or pig is then sent to local processing companies such as Sunnyside Meats. There, the animal is followed by employees from the time of plant entry to the end packaging. Sunnyside processes between eight and ten beef a day, up to forty a week. The plant employs about 15 people, two of which are inspectors solely responsible for meat quality.

In contrast, at a larger processing plant, the priorities shift. JPS, one of the four big meat processing companies in the United States, operates a Greeley plant. The employees work double shifts seven days a week, processing 6,000 beef a day. “To think about having that oversight over that quantity of product is kind of mindboggling,” said Ian Chamberlain, general manager at Sunnyside Meats.

With the lack of individual inspection, problems can arise. “They will take literally thousands of animals and grind them up,” said Chamberlain. “When you eat a burger, it’s literally from thousands of animals. If one of those animals has a health issue, it contaminates all of that product.”

Another potential health issue is irradiation. Irradiation is exposing food to radiation to kill unwanted issues, such as bacteria. In order for large plants to earn a profit, speed is required and often placed in a higher priority over health and quality. Escherichia coli, or E Coli, is an example of bacteria that can be found in beef. E Coli results in severe food poisoning, and occasionally death. However, some sources say that the longest human studies regarding irradiated food were only 15 weeks long. Long term effects are unknown.

Aside from health issues, there is the simple case of logistics. Mass-produced beef cannot be aged. At the JPS plant, the animal’s own circulatory system is flushed with water in order to cool the beef within 24 hours. As a result, the beef loses flavor and lacks tenderness. “It’s just not logistically possible to age that much beef,” Chamberlain said. “If they’re doing 6,000 beef in a day, and you want to age it 14 days, they don’t make refrigerators that big.”

These issues are eliminated through local processing. Sunnyside can age beef up to thirty days. With the low volume of beef processed weekly, Sunnyside can produce healthy and tender product that is also USDA-approved, GMO-free, antibiotic-free, and all natural, with no added hormones. Yet all of these benefits are not without their cost. A percentage of the expense from a local product at the Ore House or a similar restaurant comes from the processing. These costs do add up. However, small plants like Sunnyside and local restaurants like the Ore House are simply alternatives. “It’s good for the community to know that those options are available,” said Chamberlain. “It’s important just to get the word out there, too.”

This is the second part in a three-part series about The Bottom Line: the Cost of Local, Organic and Sustainable Food. Getting a meal from farm to table requires a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and consists of producing, processing, and preparing. The Ore House talked with Ian Chamberlain, the general manager of Sunnyside Meats, to discuss the details. This was originally posted on the Ore House’s website during February 2014. Read part one and part three.

The Bottom Line: Producing

 

Ian Chamberlain wants to change the conversation. The general manager at Sunnyside Meats has worked at the Durango-based meat processing company and with the Ore House Restaurant for ten years. Sunnyside is one of many of the local ranches, farms and businesses that the Ore House works with in order to produce local, sustainable and organic food and drinks. Yet there is complexity and cost in offering such a menu. “The price of local beef and local pork is high,” admitted Chamberlain. “And it is higher than what a consumer might see at the store. But instead of asking why local food is so expensive, start to ask why the other food is so cheap.”

Sunnyside Meats gets its beef and pork from local farmers and ranchers who Chamberlain calls “producers”. The producers send their meat, all raised locally and organically, to Sunnyside. “Even with 1,500 animals on a farm, there’s a connection with how the animal has been bred and raised. There’s this whole connection to the process that we lose when the volume gets pushed up,” said Chamberlain.

With higher volumes, quality, consistency and sustainability are lost. “The stuff at City Market and McDonalds is cheap because it comes at the expense of animals not being humanely treated and raised, and workers at the processing plant being exploited, and consumers not getting a healthy product,” said Chamberlain. “Even if the dollar menu is appealing for a lot of reasons, in the end, it is going to cost us a lot more.”

In contrast, at local farms and ranches, animals not only have the healthy living situations but proper care. The animals are grass-fed and, in some cases, grain-finished. There is no GMO, hormones or inhumane living conditions. Because the animals are raised in the Four Corners area, they aren’t shipped far for processing, which also reduces environmental impact.

The dialogue on local versus commercial is much bigger than the conversation about expensive versus cheap. The Ore House, in bringing customers local, organic and sustainable product, ensures that this product is of the highest quality. The effort not only provides customers with a healthy and delicious alternative, but supports farms, ranches, and processors in the area.

When consumers buy local, the quality is evident. “Producers have put a lot of love into raising the animal, the processor then puts a lot of love into the proper handling of that animal, and all of that costs money,” said Chamberlain. “That’s one of the things where the experience, health benefits and positive impact in the community has to add up so the consumer can feel like it’s worth it.”

This is the first part in a three-part series about The Bottom Line: The Cost of Local, Organic and Sustainable Food. Getting a meal from farm to table requires a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and consists of producing, processing, and preparing. The Ore House talked with Ian Chamberlain, the general manager of Sunnyside Meats, to discuss the details. This was originally posted at the Ore House’s blog during January 2014. Read part two and part three.

Recipe for Success

Ore House chef Ryan Lowe describes what it takes to thrive in Durango’s bustling restaurant scene

There are dozens of restaurants in Durango, ranging from fast food to steakhouses. All have their own methods for cuisine, décor, and chefs. Chefs define a restaurant, and there are many with big-city talent who have chosen Durango for quality of life.

Defining what makes a successful restaurant or chef, however, is not easy. Chef Ryan Lowe, restaurant general manager at the Ore House Restaurant in Durango, said possible qualities include: a fascination with cooking, determination, a quality consciousness, a love of working with people, a good sense of communication, and of course, a love of eating.

A good chef must also consider the clientele. Durango has a wide range of people with varied tastes, including farmers and vegans, said Lowe. “Local chefs have to be adaptable. We have chefs of a caliber that could operate in big-city restaurants, and they decide to live in Durango for a life quality, but they have to deal with the seasonality and having to deal with a clientele that won’t eat the food that they’re trained to cook,” he said. “I think the chefs here have to be thick-skinned and not too caught up in the idea of their own cooking.”

When Lowe considered if he has “made it” as a chef, he wasn’t sure. “It never feels as though you’ve made it,” he said. “You’re constantly going, ‘What else can I do to improve this?’”

Lowe has worked and cooked at the Ore House on and off for the past 11 years since the age of 16, when a friend passed on a dishwashing job. By age 18, he was working the line. “I was just determined to do well at it and enjoy it,” Lowe said. “I tried to understand everything from the facilitation to the delivery to the execution.”

He then attended Fort Lewis College to work on a mechanical engineering degree. Because FLC only offers general engineering, Lowe moved to California. He was back almost two years later. “I realized that I really love Durango and want to be here,” he said.

He’s still undecided about the switch from engineering to cooking. In the meantime, despite a staff break during the kitchen remodel, Lowe monitors the high school ProStart culinary team, which took third at the state competition this past year.

In addition to the kitchen remodel, Lowe has helped make other transitions, such as the removal of the salad bar and the development of a good restaurant culture. “I’m not this old crotchety guy who’s going to dictate what they do, but we are going to require that they be passionate and care about what they do, and if they don’t, we can’t have that kind of culture here,” said Lowe. “We have to have people who are really enthralled by what they are doing.”

This reminded him of yet another quality that a good chef should have: the ability to create a good culture. “You can create a culture in your restaurant that’s angry and frustrated and tired and burnt out and overworked and underpaid. Or you can create a culture of people who are just fascinated and excited by food and really wanting to develop their skills and abilities and all those things,” said Lowe. “I want to start from ‘what do you know, and let’s work from there and see what we can come up together.’”

Originally published in Durango Living Magazine on September 18, 2011.