By Irwin Speizer
Taylor Farms and the City of Gonzales have proved to be a winning combination when it comes to sustainable economic development. The company’s produce processing plant in Gonzales is the city’s largest economic development project to date, employing about 1,000, and it exemplifies the city’s quest for companies that adopt innovative and sustainable practices.
In April, Taylor debuted its newest addition to the plant, a cogeneration facility that uses cleaner natural gas to produce power for the facility while running waste heat through a heat exchanger to help chill produce. The cogeneration operation joins a wind turbine and solar panels to provide 90 percent of the plant’s energy needs.
Taylor’s sustainability efforts don’t stop with energy usage. Taylor recently launched an aggressive recycling and reuse program that aims to significantly reduce the amount of landfill waste sent out from the plant, with an ultimate target of zero waste. Taylor has also deployed a water recycling process that allows it to reuse water three times in the washing process. Before finally pumping used water out, it is run through cooling towers to help reduce the temperature of incoming fresh water.
Taylor’s level of dedication to sustainability and to lowering its carbon footprint is still rather rare in the food processing industry. The company hopes to use what it learns in Gonzales throughout its network, which includes 22 facilities around the country and one in Mexico.
“As far as we are aware, there is no one else doing anything remotely close to this,” says Nicole Flewell, Taylor’s Director of Sustainability.
The fact that all this sustainability activity is taking place in Gonzales is no accident. Rather, it is a testament to the city’s focus on sustainability in its economic development efforts. The city partnered with Taylor in building the wind turbine and has worked to provide swift and efficient project approvals (Gonzales prides itself on running a streamlined and business-friendly development review process that at the same time promotes sustainability). A number of other companies that moved to Gonzales also employ sustainable practices.
Gonzales has undertaken several green city projects and efforts under a program called G3 (Gonzales Grows Green).
The initiative seeks partnerships with businesses to advance green and sustainable practices while also striving to improve community environmental awareness. A city sustainability team aids companies on green projects, including guidance on obtaining incentives, rebates, and tax credits.
The sustainability emphasis certainly hasn’t hurt local economic development. Gonzales has posted Monterey County’s fastest growing tax base for the past several years.
“As job creators continue to choose Gonzales for establishing their small and large entrepreneurial dreams, they will be welcomed into a community that asks them to dream a little bigger and do what they do with sustainability and innovation at the core of their business models,” says Gonzales City Manager Rene Mendez. “They will find peer mentors and willing partners in the City of Gonzales.”
Taylor says working with the city has been a rewarding experience.
“We are very appreciative of the partnership Taylor Farms has developed over the years with the City of Gonzales,” says Sam Chaidez, Taylor’s Director of Operations. “The city has a strong commitment to promoting a successful business environment and has become a leader in establishing a culture of prosperity, innovation, and sustainable growth which are all values that align very well with Taylor Farms.”
The green advances in Gonzales haven’t gone unnoticed elsewhere. Mandy Brooks, Resource Recovery Manager for Salinas Valley Recycles, which operates the nearby Salinas Valley landfill and related waste collection, recycling and reuse programs, says what’s happening at Taylor specifically and in Gonzales generally can serve as a model for other communities and companies.
“Taylor is kind of unique in that they have a dedicated sustainability coordinator,” Brooks says. “Gonzales is unique too, with its G3 program.”
Using clean and renewable energy is particularly important in vegetable processing, which requires power-hungry refrigeration to chill fresh produce. The Taylor cogeneration project produces 2.25 megawatts of power, which, on average, is enough to supply 64 percent of the plant’s power needs with onsite natural gas that is 21 percent cleaner than energy from the power grid. The wind turbine offsets 16 percent of the plant’s power needs with renewable energy. Solar panels kick in another 10 percent of the plant’s power needs with renewable energy. Total offset: 90 percent of the plant’s needs. On some days, those three sources provide all the energy the plant requires.
Those kinds of numbers resonate at Gonzales City Hall, where advances in sustainability that also help the community grow are cherished.
“Taylor Farms continues to establish itself as a regional force when it comes to implementing innovative programs aimed at energy independence through the use of renewable and clean energy technologies,” Mendez says. “Taylor Farms stands out as an example of a can-do attitude that exemplifies our community motto, ‘The Gonzales Way.’
Irwin Speizer is a freelance writer and communications consultant based in Monterey, Ca.
Image credit: Taylor Farms