By: Betsy Peirce, Produce Manager
Just 40 miles north of Mason City, outside of Lake Mills, IA, Perfect Circle Corporation is doing something
revolutionary to provide Certified Organic and sustainably grown food and create jobs in Iowa year round. Perfect Circle is in the business of growing certified organic tomatoes. They have two greenhouses situated near the Central Disposable Landfill, and here is where the story gets interesting.
Perfect Circle Corp. is heating their greenhouses using a technology developed by Waste Management of Houston, TX called Gas to Energy. Gas to Energy is a process whereby methane gas from the [Central Disposable] landfill is pumped into a power plant (in this case across the street) where it is processed and generators turn it into enough electricity to power over 4,000 homes. A byproduct of this process is hot water. This water is used to cool the generators at the power plant. This is where Perfect Circle Corp. becomes part of the loop. Perfect Circle contracts with Waste Management to recapture the [now] hot water and use it to heat their greenhouses a mere 100 feet away from the power plant.
The waste water is not directly used by Perfect Circle. Each facility’s water is kept in closed loop systems. Instead, the waste water goes through a heat exchanger and heats metal plates, which thereby heat the Perfect Circle water. The water temperature is regulated thermostatically and then released into pipes under the floors of the greenhouse. Typically waste water from power plants is released into nearby streams and rivers. There it can damage the ecosystem with water that is around 25 degrees warmer than it originally was.
“Perfect Circle’s innovative idea is to use landfill gas to show how living things use and create energy in a cycle that can easily be tapped without harming the Earth. Thinking about energy in new ways, such as part of a recurring natural cycle rather than something created by burning a limited resource, is a major challenge in the move toward widespread, affordable renewable energy.” (http://www.alternative-heating.com/Landfill-Gas-Fuel.html)
Every aspect of their operation is taken into consideration in order to have a minimal carbon footprint and to be as sustainable an operation as they can be. They achieve this by using drip irrigation lines to conserve water resources. In addition they use energy efficient LED lighting to grow their tomatoes.
They are also extremely proud of the fact that they are creating hundreds of jobs in some of the hardest hit job loss areas. Their employees receive great benefits to go along with a solid wage. Their training program is designed to turn all of their employees into skilled labor.
They place emphasis on providing food to local sources rather than shipping far and wide. They select varieties based on flavor and nutrition rather than growing varieties that ship and handle well, but are less flavorful. Perfect Circle distributes in Minneapolis to a few grocery chains and distributors and also to Hy-Vee stores in Iowa. Oneota Co-op buys Perfect Circle tomatoes from Co-op Partners Warehouse in Minneapolis.
Their goal is to produce 350,000 to 500,000 pounds of tomatoes each year. They also plan on expansion in the spring with diversification of crops being another goal.
We are proud to carry Perfect Circle tomatoes and to support a company that is doing something towards furthering our mission at the Co-op to support local, sustainable businesses.