June 4, 2009
Sailing Zucchinis in Puget Sound
A fossil-fuel free distributor of food is emerging in Seattle and creating new connections between the field, the water and the fork.
For over a year now, Deconstructing Dinner has been documenting the evolution of Canada's first community supported agriculture (CSA) project for grain. Located in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia, the CSA has also been the catalyst for many more firsts, one of which was likely the first inland distribution of food by sailboat in the province's history. In October 2008, a fleet of four sailboats transported 5,000lbs of the CSA grains from the Creston Valley to Nelson along Kootenay Lake. Upon completion of the journey, sailor Jay Blackmore went on a short mission to find other intrepid communities who were also transporting food using the power of the wind.
In no time, Blackmore came across Dave Reid and his Sail Transport Company (STC) based in Seattle. Only two months before the grains were transported in B.C., Reid had already embarked on a maiden voyage across the Puget Sound just two months earlier. His cargo, however, was organic vegetables!
When Reid first began writing the business plan for STC, he was thinking about transporting people. Economically, it's seemed to work out better. Psychologically and culturally, however, it was believed that people just aren't ready to be transported by sail; a much longer travel time. Food, on the other hand, was seen as the next best thing. Food can be kept fresh on the open water and a zucchini is not capable of complaining that the trip is taking too long.
"Initially, I thought that if I can just go to a farm and get one bag of vegetables and sail it across Puget Sound and sell it, then we'll learn something. So we went to a farm and we bought enough produce for twenty people and went back to Seattle and sold it all," says Reid.
In its first year, STC moved produce between August 2008 and February 22, 2009 and transported honey year-round.
STC has developed working relationships with three farms but has twenty more they're looking at. The business purchases shares through the farms' CSA programs and once back in Seattle, Reid sells the produce at a premium. One of the farms is Nash's Organics in Dungeness - a small community located across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria, B.C.
On a typical delivery to Nash's, his crew will take a leisurely two days before arriving at Port Townshend and then continue onto Sequim. Once there, local resident Sid Maroney arrives with about 1,000lbs of vegetables and unloads them from his fifteen-year old electric truck. This is serious post-carbonism in action.
On the return voyage en route to Seattle, STC picks up the pace in order to preserve the freshness of the goods. The crew takes part in rotating shifts, 24/7. Within 25-30 hours, they're on the city dock in Seattle and loading produce from the boats onto bicycle cargo trailers or their electric-assisted trike! The trike is the product of Frankentrikes - a Seattle-based business that manufactures custom electric-assisted front-loading cargotrikes and rickshaws. The trike is capable of travelling at speeds of 20-25mph and is an efficient way to bring the produce to the doorsteps of STC's 25-50 regular customers. Dave believes the trike is the "most efficient vehicle in the U.S. for transporting small loads." The bicycle trailers are custom designed by STC, with the intention for the trailers to double as dock-carts capable of being maneuvered into small places at marinas.
STC's goal is to incur no more than 0.5% of its operating costs on the consumption of fossil fuels. So far, they've exceeded that goal by achieving 0.0% hydrocarbon cost!
Of course one of the common questions posed by anyone with a skeptical view of such alternative models is one of ‘practicality'. "Is sailing food practical?"
"We're running free of fuel... how practical is that?" responds Reid. When you really look at it, we're talking about comparing against a system where you need aircraft carriers to get oil into your tank, so how practical is that too? All we need is the wind and tide... it's there, and it's going to be around for a long time. If you look at a 1/4 ton pickup truck and you look at our trike, it's pretty obvious which is going to be economically viable in the long run, because pushing around 2,000lbs of metal to transport 700lbs of produce is a lot different than using a vehicle that weighs less than the actual load it's carrying. So I actually think we're the ones who are practical."
In the coming year, STC will seek to transport 2-4 times as much produce per delivery than they did in their first year.
Deconstructing Dinner is heard on radio stations across Canada and is available as a Podcast. An interview with Dave Reid can be found at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner/061109.htm
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