R.E.A.P.ing the Rewards of Transition

They say ‘it takes a village’… In the case of Village Bakery in Athens, Ohio, this statement could not be more accurate. From their inception, Village Bakery had been providing the Athens area with local and sustainably sourced foods. Now, the business is a community leader in green practices and is currently in the running for a USDA Rural Energy for America Program grant totaling nearly $10,000. In 2010, the area began to see an influx in oil and natural gas interest, and the owners began to think about how their energy usage as a business affected their community and environment. “Once we started looking at it, we realized that we could see a lot of savings by focusing on energy efficient upgrades,” said owner Christine Hughes. That’s when the first solar array was installed on the roof. 

Solar installation at Village Bakery

Solar installation at Village Bakery

Since the first panel was put into place, Village Bakery has continued to implement energy efficiency into their businesses practices. They found a local innovator to create a special oven that is highly efficient and is powered by local sustainably sourced wood. The oven is used on Friday nights to make pizza for their sister restaurant, Della Zona, and then the residual heat bakes all their breads. In 2013, they decided to incorporate more solar power into their business, so they had Fox Natural Building construct a beautiful canopy because they had already used all the rooftop space. The new porch not only offers customers a place to enjoy their fare outside, but it helped to lower amount of air conditioning needed for the bakery. 
In every sense of the word, Village is a pioneer in green business practices. They serve local food, they generate their own electricity through harnessing the sun’s power, they have created a way to bake as efficiently as possibly, and now they are incorporating a geothermal heating and air conditioning system to replace their conventional watt waster. 

For those unfamiliar, take a look at the graphic. A geothermal system uses ‘earth loops’ to keep the water surging through the system at a constant temperature. Unlike ordinary heating and cooling systems, geothermal HVAC systems do not burn fossil fuel to generate heat; they simply transfer heat to and from the earth. The system will provide all their heating and cooling needs at a fraction of the cost and a savings of 6 tons of C02 a year.  

The geothermal installation will last almost three times longer than a conventional HVAC system and will also heat most of the water used for the business. Of course, with most energy efficient upgrades, it is the upfront cost of installations that causes people to not implement the upgrades. There is hope however, because as owner Christine Hughes states: “the price of solar panels has gotten cheaper each year.” The owner saw a significant decrease in the price of the panels from the first installation in 2010 to their most recent in 2013. As for the HVAC system, the upfront costs will be returned in a short number of years, and the owners have applied for the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program. If selected to receive the government grant, the funds will cover almost $10,000 of the final project cost. Grants such as the REAP are an amazing resource for small businesses to incorporate energy efficiency into their practices. 

As the Appalachian Transition Fellow for the Athens community, my role within my host organization is to act as the ‘Green Pathways Coordinator’. I had the opportunity and the honor of helping Village Bakery apply for the R.E.A.P. grant. The Green Pathways Program, which helps local small businesses save money by becoming more energy efficient, allowed for Village Bakery to have assistance with the Technical Report section of the grant, while also receiving assistance from the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) with the overall grant writing, editing, and compiling. For some, applying for a Grant seems like, and at times can be, a daunting task. That is where a nonprofit organization like ACEnet can be a vital resource. According to the owner “It certainly wasn’t me, myself, and I doing the work; I had a lot of help from ACEnet.” The assistance helped to not only navigate the waters of federal grant writing, but also lessen the time spent by the owners on the application- after all; these people have businesses to run. 

This experience was my first with federal grant writing. After being ‘on the job’ less than a month, I found myself becoming knowledgeable about geothermal energy. I also got an essential lesson in how to coordinate between the local business and their contractors — in this case, a local business known as Airclaws Heating and Cooling. Airclaws is a family-owned and -operated company that has been serving Athens for decades and is heavily involved in the community. The company, and specifically Ryan Tevis, was instrumental in piecing together the technical report. He volunteered many of his working hours assisting with the completion. Airclaws will be working with other local businesses to do the necessary drilling and installation of the project. Athens, Ohio has amazing resources in terms of being able to not only ‘go green’ but to do it while utilizing local businesses.

The transition for Appalachia has to be multi-faceted. It needs to include not only decreasing the dependency on extractive energy, but also revitalization and strengthening of local economy. These energy upgrade projects happen to provide for both, and as Christine Hughes says, “Small businesses can be the leaders” of the Appalachian Transition. 

While it would be truly amazing for Village Bakery to receive this grant funding, even if they are denied, I would not trade this learning experience for anything. It is my hope that this fellowship and the Green Pathways Program can continue to assist local small businesses in everything from research, to project supervision, and of course, grant writing. Check back later for updates on some of the Pathways other clients to see the upgrades and practices they have implemented through the course of this fellowship year. 

- Carol Davey