Suddenly, America appreciates its farmers again. But Sunrise Cooperative of Norwalk, Ohio has been appreciating farmers – especially its 800 farmer members – for years now. They also know biofuels, having handled biodiesel fuel since 2001 and laid plans for E85 sales in the near future. But farmer appreciation, like biofuel availability and the co-op itself, wasn't always there.
It was about 20 years ago that artists like Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, and others organized the first "Farm Aid" concerts to raise dough and highlight the plight of the struggling family farmer in the U.S. The Farm Aid organization is an outgrowth of that commitment. Its mission is to, "Keep family farmers on their land."
Nowadays, everybody from General Motors to George Bush is turning to the American farmers' amber waves of grain as a panacea for our imported petroleum ills. It's about time these farmers are getting a little respect. But, hey, what do I know? I grew up in the city where I rarely saw corn that wasn't in a can. Little did I realize I was downing something I could have been pouring into my dad's Buick Roadmaster. "Son, you'd best not turn up your nose at that creamed corn. There's flex-fuel vehicles in Indiana that would be glad to have that."
Read all about the Sunrise Cooperative after the jump.
Historical Roots – Humble Biofuel Beginnings
As the saying goes, desperate times require desperate measures and it seems that anything that grows is fair game for a fuel source these days. But this isn't the first time in U.S. history that our backs have been against the wall and I think the height of the Great Depression qualifies as "desperate times". So it makes sense then that it was around the time of the dark economic days of the republic (the 1920s to be exact) that three cooperatives in Northwestern Ohio were founded. Fed up with high fuel, feed, and fertilizer costs, and long before a Willie Nelson type came in to help raise capital, a few dozen farmers made the brave decision to take matters into their own hands and start their very own "company stores". These three coops would merge into Sunrise Cooperative, Inc in 1990.
When the coops started, they were concerned about fertilizer and fuel. Today, they look at getting fuel from the fertilizer since Sunrise Cooperative is jumping on the biofuels bandwagon in a big way with biodiesel from soybean crops and E85 from corn. Well, maybe "jumping" is not quite accurate. Slowly and deliberately mounting a skittish mare is more like it.
Tom Szlagyi Sr., is an energy specialist at Sunrise and has experienced first-hand the slow and inexorable shift to biofuels. He says the shift has been a roller coaster ride of rising and falling public interest, tax incentives that come and go, and pricing peaks and valleys over the years. Szlagyi has been with the company for 13 years and has seen the rolling landscape change. "At first it was an uphill battle to gain acceptance for biodiesel and other biofuels, now it's all the rage." he says.