From Santa Cruz Waves magazine, August 18, 2020.
Watsonville City Leaders Share Insights re Blume Distillation at Whiskey Hill Farms
Whiskey Hill Farms was the site of talks by Watsonville, California, city leaders, who share their insights on working with Blume on local clean energy projects.
See transcript below.
Matt Huffaker, Watsonville City Manager
It’s a pleasure to be here this afternoon at Whiskey Hill Farms and to really celebrate the exciting work that the Blume team is working on right here in the heart of Watsonville, where I have had the honor of being the city manager for the last three years. So you may not know that the city of Watsonville has been known for its environmental stewardship for many years and everywhere from really championing water recycling efforts that we pump out billions of gallons every year to all of our agricultural industry to also be one of the first agencies in Santa Cruz County to move forward with commercial organics recycling as well.
We’ve got a really dedicated team of spirited staff that take it very personal, the responsibility we have to all be environmental stewards in this beautiful Monterey Bay that we have the privilege of living in. So when I had the opportunity to sit down with Tom Harvey and J.R. and the Blume team a couple of months ago, and they came in with this radical idea of having our garbage trucks and even school buses running on Martinelli apple cider mash, I started picturing Tom as Doc Brown in Back to the Future, shoving a banana peel into the DeLorean and heading out of town.
And the more I’ve had the opportunity to learn about what they’re proposing, the more excited I got. So we live here in the salad bowl of California for one of the largest agricultural producers in the country. And with that, we’ve got a lot of organic waste that tends to just go into the landfill when everything’s said and done.
And in the meantime, we’ve got a fleet of school buses with Pajaro Valley Unified School District and garbage trucks and police vehicles that are driving around town burning fossil fuels, right? And when we looked at what is really, in my opinion, one of the largest challenges of our generation, it’s climate change and we’re seeing the effects of that throughout California. And certainly that’s true here in Watsonville as well. And it’s going to take really creative, big thinking changes to disrupt the system we have now when we look at the energy sector.
And what Blume has come up with around taking plant based organics and converting that into energy that we could potentially have our garbage trucks running off of and have our school children heading to school powered by plant based fuels. It’s really exciting to see the possibilities that has not just here in Watsonville, but throughout the country. So we wanted to be a part of that. And we are partnering with Blume and have committed to testing the alcohol fuel on a number of our garbage trucks over the next few months.
And I know that you’re going to be hearing from Dr. Michelle Rodriguez with the school district here shortly. They’re going to be doing something similar with their school buses. And we want to be a part of that. It aligns with our mission here in Watsonville. We see the vision, and we’re excited to be to be a part of that. And it’s a pleasure to be here this afternoon with you all. So I don’t know if the next step is going to be working on time travel or you’re working on the DeLorean or not. But we want to be a part of it. So thanks for your time.
Tom Harvey, Co-Founder, Blume Organics
Dr. Michelle Rodriguez. We’ve had the pleasure of working with her and her motor pool team. We’ve actually tried a fuel bus trial, and maybe Michelle will share with you what inspired her to think, gosh, that might be worth looking at or experimenting with. And thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.
Michelle Rodriguez, Superintendent, Pajaro Valley Unified School District
Thank you so much. So I think I was just interviewing in the back there on the radio, and really for us it’s two-fold. And, you know, we are an educational institution. And one of the things that I think is unique about PVUSD, and we actually have some national notoriety for it, is our environmental literacy work that we do. So we actually have a curriculum that starting at kindergarten all the way up to high school, we have our students learning about being good stewards of the environment.
And I think so part of what we want to do is really model to our student possibilities and how we can actually purposefully and intentionally take a resource that is right here in our backyard and actually help to improve the environment instead of using diesel. Now, we because of legislation, we don’t have a choice but to eventually convert all of our buses.
So the second piece is really looking at how can we be frontrunners along with Blume of looking at what school districts can do because currently — and it was mentioned the work on the electric — but currently all of the grants that we have the opportunity to receive are around electric buses. So we did just recently receive a very large grant. So we are going to be able to purchase several new buses. We have, some of you may not know, but we have the largest fleet of buses in all of the Central Coast. So we have almost 100 buses. If you go to our bus yard, we have 100 buses there that transport about eight thousand students in total a day.
And so we have students that in some cases are on a bus over 45 minutes. And so that’s a lot long time to be polluting in the air, right? And so we’re starting right now with a very small fleet so that we can look at conversions, we can look at what we can do. And, you know, each bus cost us almost a million bucks. So we have to be cautious on I’m not doing damage to them.
So we’re starting out with some of our older fleet. But eventually the goal is to convert more of the buses so that we can one model, good behavior model, good stewardship, and then eventually, hopefully two, it will wind up having not only a positive impact on the health of our students, but also a positive impact on the fiscal as well.
Jaron Reyes, V.P. Biz Dev Santa Cruz County Bank
Thank you, Tom. When I first met Tom and Dave, I was blown away by their excitement for the project and what they do.
And as a banker who talks to a lot of local businesses, one of the things that always strikes me when I first meet someone is how passionate are they about what they do, are they excited about what they do? Because those are the businesses and the people that are the most successful and the people that make things happen. So when I when I first met them, I had an opportunity to come out here and I saw what they’re doing out here at Whiskey Hill.
And I’m not going to lie to you as a banker, most of the science of what they were telling me, it was way over my head, but I could see that what they were doing was making an impact. And what they were putting together was something special. What struck me being out here that day, in addition to that, was that their core values are really aligned with our bank’s core values in terms of what we’re looking to do in the community and what they’re looking to do.
What I mean by that is all of our branches are green certified. We finance a ton of clean energy projects and this is a clean energy project in our backyard. And we’re all local bankers. We all live in this community. And so it’s an exciting project for us to be a part of. And so we’re just excited to see it coming along and happy to be a partner with these guys. So it’s a lot of what Matt was saying.
If you can turn essentially trash into energy, that’s a pretty cool concept. And most of the stuff that I look at on a daily basis is, well, we want to finance this apartment building or we want to finance, you know, building a new commercial real estate or doing some kind of… this is something different is something you don’t see every day. And so for us and as a banker, it was exciting. I wanted to know as much as I could about it and kind of get a feel for what they’re doing.
So that was exciting for us. So we look at there’s a feasibility study of the whole thing. We look at, OK, does it make sense for the community? And we look at the numbers of it. So what are they doing and how is that economically feasible as far as what we can see? And for us, it made sense in that respect. And just like any banker we’ll give you an umbrella on a sunny day.