In an inconspicuous set of warehouse style buildings Northeast Minneapolis, there resides a new local food haven. Just look for the newly installed neon sign atop the roof! FOOD BUILDING, as it has been dubbed by founding entrepreneur Kieran Folliard and his crew of Carrie Nicklow, Jeni Kelly, Liz Bren, Liz Hancock, Tyrone Folliard-Olson, and Seamus Folliard, houses an ever growing number of local food producers. There is a dry-cured meat company called Red Table Meat Company that produces over twenty varieties of salumi. A small cheese factory, The Lone Grazer Creamery, occupies the other end of the building and produces semi-soft, washed rind cheeses and fresh string cheese, cheese curds, and ricotta. Beez Kneez, a honey production group, houses several of their hives on top of the building. And in what seems to Folliard to be a natural addition to the space, TruNorth installed 76 solar panels on FOOD BUILDING’s roof.
I interviewed Tyrone Folliard-Olson, FOOD BUILDING’s General Counsel, and Carrie Nicklow, company president, to hear their thoughts on the philosophy of FOOD BUILDING and how solar energy fits into that philosophy.
What would you both say is FOOD BUILDING’s philosophy?
Carrie: I would say in our business dealings we always strive to create a win-win. That’s really important and it’s been a guiding philosophy as long as I have been working with Kieran… I would say that that philosophy is carried through in everything that we do… The vendors and the people we interact with are our biggest cheerleaders. So treating them well is essential to our survival as a business. And I would say it’s also important that we are using our resources wisely and sustainably. And that goes back to the solar panels. The bigger picture with the building is that we want to make sure that the animals are being cared for properly, that environmental practices are being followed on the farms where the animals are coming from, that we’re using energy and resources wisely, that we’re being good stewards of our water usage, that we try to minimize any chemicals that are used in the facility, use a lot of natural products and packaging. The solar panels are a huge part of that. That was a 2-and-a-half-year project from beginning to end that Tyrone and I worked on, to try to get all of the pieces into place.
Tyrone: I think another one of the values is transparency. It’s taken very literally when you’re able to come in here, as you’ve seen, and view into the space. Not only are people able to say “I know where the milk is coming from or where the hogs are coming from”…But then also the next level where people can say “ I actually saw people making the product that I’m going to go out and purchase, and feed to my family or bring to my friends. I got to see the practices, I got to see the people who were actually doing it.” And often times, [they] actually get to meet them. [The food producers] are wandering the halls here. As you can see, it’s a very vibrant building, and sometimes that creates a bit of noise, as was just passing by. But we love that. FOOD BUILDING is a living organism.
How does solar fit into this vision and this philosophy that everyone has here?
Tyrone: I think that’s a really natural fit for us, just as Carrie said with some of our general practices that we try to take into consideration. I love that we’re working with a local company, and actually a local company with whom we have personal connections through Marty…I think that it fits in with trying to be good stewards of the environment for the community. I think that all of us very much appreciate that we’re doing something that is environmentally sound that will have positive ramifications well into the future. Yes it’s a large expense up front, but ultimately it will be doing something positive for the environment. And I know that just generally, all of our tenants really appreciate that. It was an easy sell. We said “Hey, we’re going to do solar.” And everybody said, “Oh, thank God.” That’s fantastic, why wouldn’t we do it?
Carrie: And we had to get a little creative on some of that in terms of how we attach it to the building. But really what we’re doing is we’re attaching those solar panels to the electrical meter for these common areas. So that way, really it’s everyone’s benefit.
Tyrone: We didn’t want to just say that us in the office, us in the business FOOD BUILDING, we’re the only ones that get the benefit. Because it is in a common area, everybody gets to say that the money I’m putting into this or the benefit that I’m reaping – everybody gets to benefit from it.
My last question is, how big is the solar array? What’s a bit of the history behind the inception of the solar array?
Carrie: [Kieran] brought it up. The day that he decided that he was going to buy a building instead of rent one, he said “Let’s get solar panels”. I think he put both you and I in touch with Marty, and we hadn’t even closed on the building yet.
Tyrone: Again, there was that personal relationship. I remember meeting with Marty in our old offices and just saying, how do we make this work? It was a series of many different meetings. We were on board from the beginning. It wasn’t a “do we want to do it” we were sold on solar, it was “how do we make this work and what does it look like?” Because even with such a large roof there are space considerations because we have to put up other rooftop units.
Carrie: The risk for us was, if we cover this whole thing in solar panels, and then we get a great tenant who needs 15 perforations for different smokestacks or whatever it is, then we would have shot ourselves in the foot. I think we planned it out fairly well, it covers about half of that space along Marshall Street, leaving the center of the building roof-space open. Which should work nicely… There was definitely some risk there. But Marty helped us apply for the grant application, and handled all of the paperwork. Initially we were waitlisted, but other people didn’t get their projects together and we got that grant. Then really, it was Tyrone and I saying what do we have to do to make this happen.
Tyrone: And TruNorth has really guided us through that process in a way that I’m not sure we necessarily could have on our own. We wouldn’t have been able to take that time and we don’t have that specific knowledge to be able to do that. Its been really nice… So yeah, we had the connection with Marty, we really wanted to do solar, and a bunch of meetings and a bunch of time –
Carrie: But I would say we’re really excited. It was a huge amount of work for us too, with structural engineers, and lot of conversations, just being sure that we weren’t going to make a decision that we would regret.
Tyrone: Well, we have a great building for it. I would say it was a natural fit.