Posts filed under ‘Lyle Estill’

How our community re-financed our grocery co-op

By Dee Reid

Mary DeMare, Herman Greene, Carol Hewitt, Paul Finkel and Bob Armantrout bringing it home and keeping it local.

They say, “It takes a village…” In this case it took 16 local-food friends.

It all started when Chatham Marketplace had a financial obligation looming. The Pittsboro-based co-op grocery was facing a $300k balloon payment on its start-up loan.  The note would come due in about a year. The bank might be willing to re-finance, but there was no guarantee about that, or whether the Marketplace would get the same terms.

Then Carol Hewitt recalled a great idea that came up a few months earlier when she was first co-founding Slow Money NC, the Pittsboro-based initiative that facilitates peer-to-peer community-based loans. Chatham Marketplace Finance Committee member Paul Finkel had suggested re-financing the co-op’s loan through individual lenders in the community.

Slow Money wasn’t ready to take on something that big last spring, Carol said.  But by fall, Slow Money had already facilitated more than a dozen micro-loans to farmers and food entrepreneurs. Maybe they could tackle the Chatham Marketplace loan after all.

Carol and Slow Money co-founder Lyle Estill began crunching the numbers. They would need to find 16 individuals willing to loan $25k each at a 4.5% interest rate. Each lender would receive equal monthly payments over an eight-year period, and the loan would then be retired.

Slow Money NC would help them aggregate their funds into one pool that could be managed centrally. That’s when Bringing It Home Chatham LLC was formed.

It didn’t take all that long to line up 16 lenders, Carol said. The folks who had helped start the Marketplace– Tami Schwerin, Melissa Frye and Katherine Conroy– met and suggested names. It was a community effort and one-by-one people agreed to participate. The loan was attractive to them for several reasons:  They believed in putting their money to work in the community. Many of them had already made micro-loans through Slow Money NC and they felt confident their funds would be repaid.

They knew the risks associated with supporting a small local business, Carol said, but they would rather see their money working on Main Street than riding the recession roller coaster on Wall Street. And, they would be getting a better return on the Marketplace loan than they would from a savings account or CD.

The loan was also a very good deal for Chatham Marketplace. It locked in a much lower interest rate, reducing the grocery’s monthly payment by 1/3. That means a savings of about $2500 a month – no small change for any food enterprise in these times.

“Now Chatham Marketplace is locally financed by people in the community who care deeply about its success,” Carol said. “That means we will do whatever we can to help the Marketplace succeed.”

“Bringing It Home Chatham is one of the first projects of its kind in the US,” Carol added. “It’s just the beginning of finding new and better ways to keep local food growing here in Chatham County and beyond.”

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December 19, 2011 at 9:13 pm 6 comments

Pittsboro farm growing food and power

NOTE:  The ribbon cutting has been re-scheduled to Nov. 4 at 4 p.m. 

Farmer Doug Jones is famous for growing peppers that thrive in the Piedmont. Lyle Estill is famous for producing biofuel from recycled vegetable oil. The two often trade brainstorms over at the Eco Industrial Park in Pittsboro NC, where Jones runs Piedmont Biofarm, Estill concocts new schemes at Piedmont Biofuels, and food and energy projects often feed each other.

Lyle got to wondering if they could grow both food and electrical power at the park, on the same piece of land.  What if they erected an array of solar collectors high enough off the ground that food could be grown in the partial shade beneath them? They will soon get a chance to find out, as their solar double-cropping experiment gets underway.

Piedmont Biofuels, Piedmont Biofarm and new partners Miraverse Power and Light and Southern Energy Management will have the official public ribbon cutting for the project at 4 pm on Nov. 4 at the Eco Industrial Park.

The endeavor consists of an elevated 92.16 kilowatt solar array that will generate electricity above the north field of Piedmont Biofarm, while sustainable produce is harvested at the ground level. The nine-foot clearance of the solar photovoltaic system is designed specifically to encourage growing crops that thrive in partial shade.

“Double Cropping is a term we borrowed from the wind industry,” said Estill, noting that wind generators often co-exist with working farms.

On the other hand, Estill noted, in some jurisdictions, solar installations are being banned on prime farmland.  “We need clean energy.  And we need sustainable food,” he said.  “This installation will enable both.”

Financing for the project has been provided by Michael and Amy Tiemann, who recently opened Manifold Recording, a world-class recording and production facility in Chatham County.  “The vision for this facility has always been based around sustainability,” they said in a press release. “When we began calculating the energy required to run this facility, we simultaneously envisioned how we could fit that into an overall sustainability plan.  Of all the options we considered, solar double-cropping was far and away the simplest, fastest, and best approach to meeting our energy needs without diminishing the rich agricultural potential of Chatham County.  What good is sustainable energy without sustainable agriculture?”

Michael sits on the Board of Advisors for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and has a keen interest in both renewable energy and local food.  He created Miraverse Power and Light as an entity for the double-cropping project.

Farmer Doug has been experimenting with partial shade crops for the past two growing seasons and will be farming beneath the array.  “As our agricultural zone changes, there are some vegetables that will benefit from some protection from the sun,” he said.

The 288-panel system is being installed by Southern Energy Management (SEM), a Morrisville-based company well known for utility scale solar arrays.  “We love this project because it challenges us to think about land use, climate change and where our food comes from, all at the same time,” said SEM co-founder Maria Kingery.  “This is the kind of project that made us want to get into the solar business in the first place and we hope to see many more projects like this in the future.”

This Solar Double Cropping project represents two years of planning, design, and engineering which resulted in a formal docket assignment by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

September 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm 2 comments

‘Big Spoon’ Nutty Butters

By Lyle Estill

Tread softly and carry a Big Spoon

Last Saturday I rousted my two teenage sons early so that we could attend the opening day of the new Pittsboro Farmer’s Market. As we sped toward Chatham Mills I explained how important it was that we do our part for the foodshed by playing the role of “eaters.”

They were not impressed.  Nor were they surprised that we were one week early, and that there was no new Farmer’s Market to attend. [It opens this Saturday April 16.]

Undaunted, I pushed on to Carrboro–to a market I have never attended.  It was an extreme use of fuel–much further than I would ever normally drive for such a task– but I was in the mood to seize the day.

My first booth in Carrboro was Big Spoon.  They had a selection of homemade nut butters that took me back to last fall, when a bunch of us shelled, roasted, and pureed peanuts grown at Piedmont Biofarm. Apparently they bottle up their wares at Ninth St. Bakery when baked goods are not coming off the line.

I bought a jar of peanut cashew–cashew nuts being one thing I miss horribly on my hundred-mile diet.  What can I say?  I was at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. I was in a weird mood.

We made the rounds, loaded up on some chicken from Castle Rock Gardens–whom we recognized as a Slow Money participant--and we bought a bunch of bedding plants to force our own hand in the garden.

When we arrived home I cracked the Big Spoon for a sample on hot toast.  Arlo loaded up a banana (his diet is not quite local yet–although I did point out that our bananas would be ready in the fall).  Zafer vanished with just the jar and a spoon.

That was the last I saw of it.  I fished the empty jar out of the recycle bin for Tami to photograph.

I thought it made a bold statement about the quality of the product.  And I’m delighted to have Big Spoon doing their thing in Durham.

April 13, 2011 at 8:50 pm Leave a comment

Hi-Def Chickens in 3-D

By Lyle Estill

Arlo's excellent coop.

My son Arlo has been wanting chickens for awhile now. Last spring he started building a chicken coop down at Summer Shop.  I’ve been offering him wise counsel and advice.

In the past I have hunted and eaten prairie chickens, and I have raised multiple generations of “rare breed” domesticated chickens.  Which means I have seen chickens die of dehydration.  And I have seen them fall victim to snakes, possums, raccoons, dogs, foxes, hawks, owls and weasels over time.

Weasels are the worst.  They come every other night and they kill only one bird, eating only the breast.

No amount of experience was enough to sway Arlo.

When Megan and Tim Toben came to dinner, two things happened.  Firstly, they spotted Arlo’s custom chicken coop.  And secondly, they sunk their teeth into one of Arlo’s apple/pear pies.

From their perspective it was entirely clear.  Pickard’s Mountain was having a dinner.  They needed pies.  From Arlo’s point of view it was also obvious.  He needed chickens.  Megan struck a deal with Arlo:  eight pies for eight hens.  Done.

In order to prepare for the chickens we went to the feed store to get supplies.  We needed staples to secure the fence to keep dogs out, and we needed oyster shells to keep the hens calcium up, and we needed chicken feed, and a bunch of stuff.

This morning Arlo harvested a solitary egg.  I suggested that it was worth about one hundred and eighty bucks.

Which left Arlo undaunted.  He’s going to make a go of it in backyard chickens.

And we are going with him.

Earlier today Tami said, “The chickens make me happy.”

That’s worth something.  I’m not sure how to price it, exactly, but we could charge some happiness to the chickens.

Tonight I came home from watching a scholastic soccer game and I went out to watch the chickens.  I called it “chicken TV.”  Cancel the satellite television subscription, I’ll go watch the chickens.  I’m not sure what it would cost for a bunch of television but I’m guessing it is a lot.

Tami came home from her yoga session and we went back out to watch the chickens.  Clearly it is a channel both of us would normally subscribe to.

I’m guessing that if we sharpened up our pencils, and charged everything from happiness to forgone television subscriptions to fresh eggs, we would be way ahead with chickens.

And if I am wrong about that, it’s too late.  Because we have a mixed flock of chickens to contend with…

— From  Energy Blog. Lyle is Vice President of Stuff at Piedmont Biofuels in Pittsboro.

September 24, 2010 at 7:38 pm 1 comment

Cooking it right

By Lyle Estill

As a mere eater in our food shed I have to say that cooking is everything.

People sign up for CSA shares and don’t know where to start with a box of raw food.

Enter C’est Si Bon,  a cooking school in Chapel Hill that has been serving up cooking skills  for a long time now.  And they take on children.  They recently brought a crew by the plant to harvest food from the farm and cook it on site.

This summer I have one son at tennis camp, and another studying cooking.  Tonight we were served a four- course meal, and we were required to report on it by the class instructor.  Here is what we said:

Arlo’s Four-Course Dinner

I have to say I was skeptical. Arlo has long worked in the kitchen, but he often makes a greater mess than a fantastic meal.  When I arrived home from work he was chopping.  Furiously.  It was amazing. Garlic was flying everywhere.  The house smelled fantastic.

He asked me to leave, so I went down to the shop to let him work in peace.

When I returned to the kitchen for a beer, the place smelled entirely different, and amazing, and what astonished me was that he had cleaned up.  He refused to let me open the refrigerator, and fetched a beer for me instead.

By the time Tami came home I was spent, and ready to eat.  It was the hottest day of the year, and a difficult time to be exiled from the house.

Course one was garlic bread.  He had used a sourdough loaf from Weaver St. as a base, and I have to say it was both crispy and soft with the perfect amount of garlic.  I scored it as a 10/10.  It was too much garlic for Zafer, who gave it a 7/10 because it made his eyes water.

Course two was a cold potato soup.  I don’t like cold soup.  But it was remarkably refreshing.  Also high in garlic.  When I reflected on how the two courses were rather “garlic on garlic,” Arlo’s heart dropped.  He had deep-fried bananas in local canola oil with which we could cleanse our palettes. He fetched them from the fridge and the meal continued.

Course three was steak wrapped in cheese wrapped in salami.  It was exquisite.  In the middle of his preparation Arlo came down to the shop to ask about the availability of skewers.  We had none.  I suggested that he cut stalks of rosemary and use them instead, and he did that.  We had a rosemary infused meat and cheese course that left us all stunned and amazed.

Our fourth course awaits us. It appears to be crème brulee.  He caramelized the sugar on top with his new fancy torch, and set things back into the fridge to gel.

The kitchen was clean, the presentation was amazing, and I am more than a little bit taken aback by what Arlo delivered in the form of tonight’s meal.

Thank you C’est Si Bon.

July 8, 2010 at 1:58 pm 3 comments

Slow money fast

If sending your hard-earned savings to faraway banks, unknowable funds and multinational corporations leaves you cold, maybe it’s time to move some of your dollars from Wall Street to Main Street.  You might not make a quick buck, but you could directly enhance the quality of your community, where you live every day. Check out this report from Lyle Estill in Pittsboro, where people are taking a direct approach to putting their money where their food is:

About thirty people gathered in the back of the General Store Café to continue the “Slow Money” conversation that has come to town.

It’s hard to say where it began, exactly.  It may have been at the sustainability pavilion at Shakori, where Pierre and a handful of folks got to talking about how they wished they could put their money to work locally.

I like to say it began with a loan I made to Diane and wrote about in the “Financing Ourselves” chapter of Small is Possible.

But  the beginning is perhaps less important than where we are now.

Mike and Tony brought Woody Tasch to town, and invited about thirty people to a conversation at the college.  Woody is the author of Slow Money, and the founder of a national movement that is currently under way.  The idea is to get people to invest in local food enterprises in a way that preserves capital and brings about resilience as a return.

His visit catalyzed our efforts and inspired us to get busy.  I’m not sure who it is who said “We need slow money fast,” but the notion stuck.  The Abundance Foundation had already dabbled in some micro-finance, and their board quickly  approved of our project. Within a week of Woody’s visit we had arranged $15K worth of pledges for loans and extended one to Lynette.

She’s the new baker in town.  And she needed two thousand dollars to get some baking equipment so that she could provide bread to Keenan’s Baker+Farmer CSA.

With a solitary loan in hand Tami and I headed off to the national BALLE conference in Charleston.  Woody was there.  He’s simply trying to change capitalism.  And the story of our little loan got some traction.

Carol took the story to the national Slow Money Conference in Vermont last weekend and was well received.  Last night at the General Store another 30 people showed up, and another $12K was pledged.

Which means we now have a potential pot of $25K to lend to area foodshed projects.  Not a bad start.  It appears lots of people are interested in lending money to  growers, and processors, and chefs and to those folks who are engaged in keeping us fed.  What is rapidly emerging looks like a peer-to-peer matching service in which those with extra money are able to loan it to those in need.

I’m sure I am not the only person who came home impressed by the evening.  As the meeting ended, Paul pulled me aside and joked that when the financial collapse comes at least we will be eating well.  And I couldn’t agree with him more.

It’s funny.  In Small is Possible I had chapter titles like “Feeding Ourselves” and “Fueling Ourselves,” and when it came to the notion of “Financing Ourselves,” I gave our community pretty low marks.  It looks like that is scheduled to change.

It appears lots of people are interested in slow money, and that many of us want to see it happen fast.

–Posted on June 16, 2010 at Energy Blog.

Interested? Here’s how you can get involved.

June 17, 2010 at 10:59 am Leave a comment

Sandhills Farm to Table

By Lyle Estill

Today at work I encountered a pile of neglected snail mail, including a homemade DVD with a hand-written note, the signature of which I could not decipher.

I popped it into my computer and was greeted by “A Sandhills Farm to Table Conversation,” the story behind an innovative  new cooperative of farmers and consumers in nearby Moore County, N.C.  

The video began with a farmer talking about their diversification efforts.  It moved to an organizer who talked about how they had managed to build a broad base of support-from churches to agricultural extension agents to surrounding farmer’s markets.  And it ended with a woman who is committed to slipping recipes into every box of food.

My response to the video was mixed.  As a committed maker of bad movies with my own You Tube Channel, I could relate (and as a film school drop out, I was horrified).  But as someone who has been to the Sandhills many times to talk about resilient communities I was intrigued.

I’ve met these people.  They have come to Pittsboro to tour our Eco-Industrial Park and our farms.  I’ve been down to their community centers and hotels and restaurants. We have communicated with email.  And in some strange way I felt the DVD was part of a broader correspondence.

They have gone out and built a community-wide CSA (community supported agriculture venture where consumers pay in advance for fresh food from the farm) with some 750 members.  That’s giant.  All of the CSAs that I have been involved in number less than 100.  Most are closer to 50 subscribers.  

As I watched the video I realized I was peering into raw, uncut footage of how a community figures out how to feed itself.  Forget production values.  It was the stuff of resilience.

As a newly minted cooperative, their tagline is “We Are All in This Together.”  And by that they mean they are not simply eaters who are demanding the lowest possible price for the food they consume.  Or simply growers who are trying to fetch the highest possible price for the food they produce.  Rather, they are in it together, and attempting to feed as many people as possible.

Like many communities in America the Sandhills region is a place of vanishing farmland.  As conventional agriculture recedes, and golf course communities continue their ascendancy, the Sandhills appears to be a place that has decided to figure out how to feed itself.

With area farmer’s markets enjoying less than a 1% penetration rate, these people have decided to create a community wide CSA with multiple “Gathering Points” where people can pick up their boxes of food.

And when they do, they will find some recipes included-in case the eater has forgotten what to do with a whole vegetable or fruit.

I was inspired by the video.

In a time when so many people seem either hopeless or lost, this group has rolled up its sleeves and taken direct action on how they might feed themselves.

I’m in awe.

April 17, 2010 at 4:50 pm 2 comments

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