18 000 tons. This is equivalent to 9 000 cars. Imagine all these cars piled into a landfill. It’s a grim illustration but there is hope. What if you could take 18 000 tons of garbage and turn it into a renewable resource?
That’s exactly what our Energy Department at NatureFreshTM Farms does. We use approximately 18 000 tons of waste wood per year that would otherwise be destined for a landfill. We burn waste wood because it provides a source of heat to our greenhouses during the harsh winter months in Leamington, ON.
After celebrating my first year at NatureFreshTM Farms in November, I reflected on each department and what they mean to NatureFreshTM. Today, I, Herman Fehr, will be giving you a behind the scenes tour of our entire Energy Department. Transparency is valuable. My job is to show you what goes on at NatureFreshTM Farms.
The Energy Department consists of 3 team members: Dave F., Brian F., and Johnny H. The 3 of them manage our entire Energy Department. This requires a lot of dedication and teamwork to execute within their small staff. In one day, our 3 wood boilers will burn through 75 tons of waste wood. Dave is the leader of the group. With 10 years of experience under his belt, he is one of our Grow-to-People for anything involving the Energy Department. Brian is Dave’s assistant. He’s been with NatureFreshTM for a little over a year now and supports Dave in the day to day demands that the Energy Department entails. Lastly, Johnny is the transporter. Johnny has been working in the Energy Department for over 3 years. He trucks in all the waste wood that others are planning to throw away. One man’s trash is our Energy Department’s treasure.
Managing and maintaining production is crucial. Over 60 acres of bell pepper and tomato plants have been planted in the past few weeks with the rest of the planting to be completed by January 16th. Any stoppage in heat production could be disastrous for our crop. There’s a lot on the line for the Energy Department but the guys take everything in stride and make sure our plants are always comfortable. It’s a small but experienced group.
You might be wondering where all this wood comes from. There’s a variety of different sources. Our main sources of wood are old pallets, hardwood flooring and construction waste. Once a source of wood has been located, Johnny is sent out to retrieve it. The wood is brought back to the farm where it’s unloaded and shredded. Once the waste wood is shredded, Brian will load it into a storage room.
The storage room is where the magic happens. The back half of the floor consists of moving plates, which feeds the boilers all the wood that is required. This process is automated through sensors and will generally repeat twice a day if the boilers are running for 24 hours straight.
As important as our wood boilers are, they don’t fulfill the demand for heat across our 130 acres of greenhouses in Canada. In addition to our wood boiler, NatureFreshTM Farms uses natural gas boilers. Using the latest technology, our natural gas boilers run at 92% efficiency. The only byproducts produced are CO2 and water. Instead of simply releasing the CO2 into the atmosphere, it gets pulled from the boilers and pumped into our greenhouses where it’s absorbed by our plants. With the increased CO2 quantities and the ability to control the environment in our greenhouses, our plants can grow to their full potential.
There’s a lot of pressure that comes with the responsibility of keeping our greenhouses warm. Even with our state-of-the-art technology, none of this would be possible without NatureFreshTM Farms’ best asset; the employees. Every employee has an important role and they must fulfill their role for operations to continue.
No employee has to question whether a certain aspect of the farm is being fulfilled. Every department is just as important as the next. We may be divided into various departments, but we are one big team working towards the same goal. It starts from the top down. I’m fortunate enough to be a part of the NatureFreshTM team and have the ability to interact with all departments. I get to see how each branch of operations functions and how everyone works together to create something special.
Our Energy Department exemplifies this perfectly. Challenges present themselves throughout the day but the team is always working together to make sure every part of the process is being executed correctly and in the most efficient manner possible.
We are producing top of the line produce for all to enjoy. Our mission isn’t accomplished when the clock strikes 5 pm. It’s accomplished when our customers receive a high-quality product that they’ve come to expect when they see NatureFreshTM Farms.
After spending the day with the guys in the Energy Department, it became clear that we are doing much more than simply burning wood, we are creating a sustainable resource to continue growing as efficiently as possible. This is just one facet of NatureFreshTM Farms, be sure to check out my future endeavors as I dive into all aspects of operations at NatureFreshTM.