These Renewable Energy Companies Are Feeding Hungry Families
By Meg Wilcox
As U.S. food assistance programs grapple with overwhelming demand during the coronavirus pandemic, some in New England are finding support from unusual partners—renewable energy companies.
Scratch the surface of these partnerships, however, and the connections begin to make sense. The renewable energy companies are already engaged with the food system, and they're joining with food relief efforts to connect more deeply with the communities where they do business at a time of crisis.
Take Vanguard Renewables, which has sponsored five milk donations events, donating more than 17,000 gallons of milk to Massachusetts and Rhode Island families in need, in partnership with Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), HP Hood, Guida's Dairy and various political leaders.
Vanguard Renewables develops novel on-farm systems that recycle organic food waste and manure into renewable energy that it converts to electricity or sells as gas. The company takes food waste from food manufacturers and grocery stores, and uses it to fuel its six anaerobic digester facilities in New England, which also produce organic fertilizer and bedding for animals.
When dairy's main markets shuttered in April, Vanguard Renewables Chairman and CEO John Hanselman noted a sudden large influx of raw milk coming into his company's facilities straight from farms. Hanselman, who'd never before seen that, reached out to DFA to ask, "Hey what can we do?"
DFA was already focusing on milk dumping, and through its charitable arm, DFA Cares, it raised the money needed to purchase milk from farmers to make the donations. Vanguard Renewables contributed $15,000, as well as time and logistical support. Hood HP and Guida's Dairy processed the milk into gallon jugs, and got it out to the points of distribution. The National Guard helped hand out the milk jugs.
"It was a hell of an effort, but it really felt good in your soul as people were pulling up and we were putting gallons of milk in their trunks," said Hanselman. "You know that so many families are just a few paychecks away from not having their nutritional needs met, and that's devastating in a country that has such abundance."
BlueWave Solar, a certified B Corporation and developer of community solar projects, is taking a different tack to help feed families in need. It's donating a portion of the subscriptions it receives to two new community solar projects—in Hudson Valley, New York and in Massachusetts—to area food banks.
Community solar provides homeowners and renters an opportunity to tap into clean energy, at a reduced rate on their monthly electric bills, without installing solar panels on their homes. BlueWave Solar's projects are typically developed on low-value land, such as along a highway, but they're also developed on farms, which helps stabilize farmers' income. Recently, the company began developing innovative dual use solar farms which Marsch, calls the "holy grail," because the farmer is able to continue farming the land around the solar array.
For each new subscriber to the community solar projects, BlueWave Solar contributes $50 to area food banks. The company has also donated more than $10,000 to four food banks since the pandemic started, according to Mike Marsch, principal, community solar at BlueWave Solar
"When COVID hit, it was such a clear need. It's such a hard-hit region, food insecurity being what it is," said Marsch. "As a company, we've supported the food bank. A lot of us have volunteered there. We thought a natural extension was to combine that with community solar."
Donating to food banks to attract new subscribers is also a creative way for the company to gin up business while sales are low—but local food banks are grateful for the support.
Paul Stermer, director at Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, said he's seen roughly 50 percent more people in the area who are food insecure and need help since the pandemic struck.
Stermer is concerned that once the coronavirus relief programs phase out—the increased unemployment benefits, rent forgiveness, expanded SNAP, Paycheck Protection Program—people will struggle even more.
"Even once we get past the pandemic, … the impact of what we're seeing today is going to be with us for a while," he said.
Indeed, a recent analysis by Feeding America found that progress made in the past decade on food insecurity will likely be wiped out by the pandemic.
Vanguard Renewables is trying to keep its effort going, said Hanselman, noting "we've got 40 million unemployed Americans and it takes a long time to get those folks back to work."
But he says, it's gotten harder now to get interest, especially now that the dairy supply chain disruption is over.
Regardless of whether the companies can maintain food relief efforts, both will continue building on-farm clean energy systems that support farmers and help make their operations more regenerative.
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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