Distallage for new markets in green infrastructure
New residential real estate driven solution improves affordability for residents while creating climate change resiliency for communities.
Please describe your business idea and the overall impact it would have on the Austin community.
Central Texas has two large land-based industries: agriculture, which is economically very weak, and residential real estate - and neither one has a great environmental track record.
Still Austin produces about 3 semi tankers per week of distillage and actively seeks a reliable partner to take that waste product off their hands. This is a matchmaking problem between infrastructure and resources: if not solved now, Still Austin might be back next year. That’s where Sunergie comes in: we can transform their waste into a valuable product and do it over the long term. Our model is scalable and flexible, meaning we could take increased quantities over time, along with the oyster shells. Sunergie is owned and operated by Patrick Van Haren, who grew up in livestock farming, operated a commercial compost facility in Central Texas for several years, and has a lifelong focus on how to create rural economic development while improving the environment.
Poor soil quality throughout Central Texas affects every agricultural enterprise here. Sunergie will use the distillage as a major component in high-quality compost in a regenerative agriculture that is part of a new residential community. There may be other contenders also planning to use distillage, but currently there is no regenerative agriculture partner in Central Texas able to use such a large volume, reliably, over the long term. Our system will profitably divert large quantities of commercially processed food by-products into compost valued at $200/cubic yard, a 6-fold improvement in price (compared to conventional compost), while reducing cost of living for residents and creating hundreds of on-site jobs. We can put this "waste" to its highest and best use.
Which [Re]Verse Pitch Material Supplier byproducts would your business repurpose?
Sunergie will reliably pick up and repurpose Still Austin’s distillage and optionally, Quality Seafood’s oyster shells in to soil amendments for an innovation in greenfield residential community amenities that finances a high quality, on-site compost and soils yard to build the community’s soil quality, climate change resilient green infrastructure, and on-site nutrient dense food (including livestock production), as well as dramatically improved resilience to wildfire risks and drought.
What makes your proposed business model viable?
We have identified a land use formula that gives high security and return on investment, while improving both the environment and rural economic development with new jobs.
Our project will change the pervasive sprawl model that literally drives up the cost of living, into a new model we have worked on since 2014. This model of walkable communities plus regenerative agriculture was confirmed with the 2016 publication of a book called The New Grand Strategy, by Mark Mykleby, et al, which proposes this model as a sustainable solution to multiple social, economic and environmental problems.
We will create compact & connected walkable neighborhoods on 25% of a site, and regenerative agriculture on the remaining 75% - which will remain under conservation easement indefinitely. Our project will surpass the popular Mueller development because we add food production and job creation to the walkable neighborhoods.
The regenerative agriculture is also known as the green infrastructure, or greens. Sunergie, as the steward, builds the greens at a cost of $20 million per square mile, or approx. $20,000 per household. Residents’ investment purchases high-quality compost, soil minerals, large reservoirs to hold surface water to endure long-term drought, and plentiful tree cover. Using livestock to maintain the greens, the steward produces nutrient-dense premium foods that are sold to residents at an exclusive discount (wholesale prices), resulting in a minimum 2% rate of return to residents on their investment. The large surplus of food produced by the greens will be sold in other markets at full price, thereby profiting the steward.
Our business model is viable due to its positive financial returns to investors, residents and the land steward.
How scalable is your proposed business model?
This is an advanced seed stage/pilot project that benefits from on-hand equipment of Microbial Earth Farms (our sister company), which operated a compost yard from 2008-2013. We have equipment such as tractors, wagons, pumps, row covers, etc., that can be put to use quickly once land & plans are in place.
We believe that increased family security - access to good health, good food, and a stable roof over their heads - starts with green infrastructure combined with new urban design. We are creating new greenfield residential communities that address the Real Estate Council of Austin’s call for up to 100,000 new working class homes. We have potential for 50+ new communities in the 10-county CAPCOG region at 1000 homes/square mile, using the model of walkable communities + regenerative agriculture.
This model is superior to conventional sprawl for multiple reasons:
Individual homes & private yards are smaller due to the walkable design and plentiful public green space, thus are less expensive to purchase and maintain.
Project provides up to 200 low- to medium-skilled onsite jobs per sq. mile in value-added activities related to the steward’s production of livestock, fruit, nuts, vegetables.
Walkable communities are transit-oriented development (TOD), which can allow elimination of a car, thus reducing household transportation costs by up to $5000/year.
Walkable design and on-site farmer’s market reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
Allotment gardens are supported by the stewards, who manage soil quality with professional equipment and services; households producing additional food in these gardens save more money.
Our vision is for over 50 communities in CAPCOG, handling all of the region’s oyster shells, distillery & brewery wastes & more to build the greens.
What funding will be required to fully implement, and then scale your idea? What funding do you plan to seek (beyond Reverse Pitch funds), and what will make your idea attractive those funding sources?
Our model begins with investors buying raw development land in large acreages and financing soft development costs under the favorable Travis County Conservation Development Ordinance, approved in 2008. Our planning team will complete the master plan and platting for a walkable community, while our professional broadacre permaculture designers create the master plan for the greens; then we open the project to buyers of the residential lots. Once sufficient buyers seeking more affordable lifestyles are identified, we petition the Travis County Court for the creation of a ‘Regenerative’ Agriculture Development District (similar to a MUD but requested at the county level, not the state Legislature - See TDA Code 4 Chapter 60). After lot sales are complete, the RADD issues green bonds to buy the land and finance the construction of the greens + walkable community infrastructure. Investors do not participate in the construction risk of the infrastructure. They only purchase the land and finance the soft costs, then sell it to the RADD at a premium return on the full appraisal value of the land.
Once the greens are financed, the steward, Microbial Earth Farms, receives the harvest rights to the greens and begins operations of livestock under a 10- year agreement, renewable every 5 years.
This $10k investment will finance the digital design of the first RADD by highly experienced permaculture designers, enabling compost operations by the end of 2018 and payment within 3 years. This will be matched by $250 million in local investments by the proposed community, of which $20 million will be in the green infrastructure. That’s a lot of love for the environment and rural economic development.
Describe your team and how your experience relates to your ability to execute your business plan.
Sunergie works with celebrated Austin planner/architect Professor Sinclair Black who has over 50 years of experience in central Texas architecture and planning.
Pix Howell is Project Manager and Community Planner for over $2 billion in Central Texas master plans and development projects, including a Cap Metro TOD.
Cathey Lowe (CFO) was formerly SVP Finance and Investor Relations Officer for The Ryland Group of California, a Fortune 500 homebuilder and mortgage company. She serves on the board of The New Home Company, which produced the NAHB 2016 Master Planned Community of the Year: The Cannery, a concept similar in its urban design to the proposed project.
For the design of the Greens, Darren J. Doherty of Australia provides extensive experience across the world in Green Infrastructure project design, development, management and training on the profitable and regenerative retrofit of broadacre landscapes. He has designed well over 2,500 projects across 6 continents in more than 50 countries ranging from 1 million-hectare cattle stations in Australia to 110,000-acre Estancias in Patagonia, and EcoVillage developments in Tasmania.
Patrick Van Haren, B.Sc. Agr., MBA cum laude in entrepreneurship at Babson College. Patrick has experience in developing joint ventures in North America and Europe, and in managing three small agricultural companies in Ontario. He is a graduate of the two-year Canadian Agricultural Lifetime Leadership Program, and has served in numerous co-operatives in Canada. Patrick has completed courses in Wind & Bioenergy Project Finance, Advanced Composting, Holistic Resource Management, and Intensive Cattle Grazing, and was awarded a Certificate as a Sustainable Development Professional from the American Energy Engineers Association.
How will your business impact the Austin economy? Include the quantity and quality of jobs that the business would create and how the business would support other Austin businesses.
The City of Austin-Travis County Sustainable Food Policy Board reports that the Austin region produces just 1% of its food requirements. Our project represents a tremendous opportunity to drastically increase this number: residents will get up to 70% of their food needs met by on-site production. The project will simultaneously create hundreds of low- to medium-skilled jobs, in food processing (fruit and nuts, vegetables, eggs, dairy), animal care (cattle, swine, goats, sheep, chickens, bees), garden and greenhouse labor (vegetables, flowers, culinary & medicinal herbs), tree nursery, compost yard, equipment operation, etc.
RADDs created by Sunergie are capable of producing 200 green jobs/square mile. When filled by community residents, these jobs don’t require vehicles for commuting. Further, many of the jobs have some time flexibility as well as seasonal cycles, making them adaptable to a diversity of families/lifestyles/needs. In addition to reduced transportation costs, the jobs have fringe benefits such as access to low cost non-premium produce and foodstuffs. Many of these jobs can be offered to limited-English or non-English speakers (including for example, trainees from New Leaf, a part of the Multicultural Refugee Coalition), and difficult-to-employ groups seeking smaller scale/affordable housing.
The projected demand for 100 new affordable communities in CAPCOG counties (100,000 new working class homes - RECA) could result in 20,000 new jobs in the food production and value added products sector, resulting in up to $800,000,000 in new salaries in the CAPCOG area, of which 10% could be in Travis County and the Austin ETJ.
The proposed nutrient dense foods produced by the Greens will also have a beneficial impact on nutrition-related diseases.
Please describe the overall environmental and zero waste impact of the operation, including whether the product design allows for the material to be diverted to its highest and best use at the end of the product’s life.
The project has a strong environmental emphasis: we are building regenerative agriculture that improves soil, increases water availability, sequesters carbon from atmosphere, & provides ecosystem services that directly benefit local residents (better food, grown on site; water security even during drought; fresher air, reduced heat island effect, etc., and accumulation of free carbon credits).
The disruptive impact of a long-term steward within the project enables new green features exclusive to the project:
Residences are 100% composting. We connect all residences via their in-unit garbage disposal to a separate pipe, sending all kitchen scraps to the on-site compost yard, thus reducing resident obligations & work load for composting.
An on-site steward can support increased materials cycling & aggregation, as well as facilitate source separated recycling containers/facility on-site, for higher quality products entering the bulk markets.
Food waste can be minimized by maximizing the freshness of produce and recycling waste to the on-site compost yard. This reduces water & energy footprints.
Rainwater storage is equivalent to 500,000 gallons/household.
The greens are a viable technology for carbon sequestration at a net rate of 26.5 tons C per year, or approx. 7 tons C/household/yr. (Toensmeier 2017: Carbon Farming Solution).
Livestock operations allow the project to address the insufficiency of Austin’s local food production, enabling up to 70% of the community’s diet to be produced on-site, and a surplus of animal protein to be marketed into the regional community (10x the residents' needs).
The community enhances affordability due to residents enjoying lower cost housing & transportation, more exercise, and better health through better food at lower cost.