Touching down in New York City, Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board (WSMB) Secretary/Treasurer Jonathan Gibbs was prepared for the three-day long Clean Fuels Alliance America’s (Clean Fuels) New York City Big Apple tour.
The tour took place Dec. 10-13 in the hustle and bustle of the city lights of Times Square, where the farmer leaders met each morning before heading off for the tour of the day.
New York City began using biodiesel in 2000 and the city continues to support the industry by using biodiesel/Bioheat fuel, as well as the introduction of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel.
“I’ve always thought that our investment in Clean Fuels has been a very worthwhile and good investment,” Gibbs said. “I think coming to New York, getting out of the Midwest, seeing the work and the value that the city places on our product, is great education.”
Gibbs traveled with other farmer directors from around the country who were representing their respective soybean boards, along with WSMB Manager of Strategic Programs Adam Kask.
In just three days, attendees covered several tours and heard from many speakers on their respective organizations and their work for sustainability and biofuels.
Day one started off at the SUNY Maritime College with an introduction and industry overview from Clean Fuels CEO Donnell Rehagen and Tom Verry, director of outreach and development for Clean Fuels.
“Oh, I loved it,” Verry said, regarding the Big Apple tour this year. “It’s always a great opportunity to showcase how the industry has developed since they were here a year ago. We went out to the New York Maritime College. We had a great discussion about how biodiesel is being looked to as a low carbon fuel for the industry because more and more shippers are wanting to decarbonize their supply chain in response to their customer’s request. Biodiesel is an excellent opportunity to do that.”
The group toured the SUNY Maritime College campus, the fort and the “Empire VII” training ship. This ship’s construction was completed in 2023 with a capacity to carry over 1,000 people for up to two weeks during humanitarian operations, a hospital, helicopter pad, roll on and out cargo storage and for students to receive training.
“One of my highlights on the trip was the eye-opening amount of maritime traffic that happens around the city,” Gibbs said. “I never realized how big of a role maritime played in this area.”
To end the day, an optional tour of FDNY’s Engine 54/Ladder 4, “The Pride of Midtown” was given. The firefighters welcomed the guests of the Big Apple Tour with snacks and a tour, answering questions along the way. The firefighters were excited to host the guests.
‘Eye opening’ visits
Day two was filled with more informational speakers, including Elizabeth, N.J. mayor J. Christian Bollwage, who spoke about the city’s sustainability work. Students from Kean University were also in attendance to learn more sustainably practices in agriculture.
“My kids have classmates that have never been on a farm, and we live in a fairly rural setting, and they’ve never had that experience,” Gibbs said. “When you have 30,000 students in a city [Elizabeth, N.J.] of 140,000, I’m glad that they have some opportunity to see how plants grow. I really enjoyed the aspect of having an interaction with students. A lot of them haven’t been in an agricultural setting. Their experiences are totally different than what our family and I see every day. To hear what they’ve heard, and the questions they’ve had was really eye-opening.”
Back on the bus, the group headed down the road to Groundwork Elizabeth (GWE) for a tour of the location. CEO Johnathan Phillips spoke about the non-profit at the University before they arrived on site. Since 2003, GWE has worked for environmental justice. The nonprofit community group began working with Clean Fuels when the EPA had environmental justice grants available.
The city is only 11 square miles, but Elizabeth, N.J., is home to almost 140,000 people equaling about 12,000 people per square mile, leaving little room for green space such as trees and gardens. GWE gives locals a place to gather and learn about horticulture. A new endeavor GWE is taking on is planting soybeans and growing a small amount of the plants to showcase the product.
Following another packed full day, the final day was held in the Marriott Marquis in Times Square where they heard from Keith Kerman, chief fleet officer with the City of New York/Department of Citywide Administrative Services, on the current use of biodiesel and the future use in the city.
He spoke about their use of Goodyear soy-based tires and renewable fuel in their fleet vehicles. He sees the city continuing forward to be even more sustainable.
The partnership with New York started with fuel and has expanded to more soybean products such as soy-based road sealant use in the city, soy-based cleaners and even soy-based spray foam for fires. The Clean Fuels Big Apple Tour showed just how much the industry opportunities continue to grow.
“We’re here because farmers supported Clean Fuels back in 1992 as a way as a new market opportunity,” Verry said. “They’re still playing a key role in leadership in our industry and what I heard this week from our farmers is fourth generation, fifth generation, sixth generation. Everybody’s talking about sustainability the farmers have, but you can’t be multi-generational without being sustainable. I thought our farmer guests in those discussions (on the trip) really did a good job showing that the soybean industry is sustainable.”