When I'm having a less-than-awesome day during the winter here in Minnesota, I like to think about roses. No matter how frightfully cold it gets outside, you can drive to your local Target or Cub Foods and find roses, lilies and a multitude of other delightful flowers that you can take home to enjoy in your own winter den for about ten dollars. It seems like a minor miracle that this treat is available to us at such a bargain while the roses planted within our local landscapes often must be buried underground or covered in straw or leaves just to survive the season.
The largest commercial rose producer outside of California happens to be located just down the road from Natural Creations in Plymouth, MN. Len Busch Roses has been in business for nearly fifty years and has become the largest supplier of roses in Minnesota, supplying flowers to more than 1,000 florists in the midwest. Producing the highest quality flowers for their customers is the ultimate goal at Len Busch Roses, and their continued growth and commitment to innovation is the reason that our paths have crossed. When Natural Creations removes tree branches or brush from a job site, we deliver it to Len Busch Roses. There it is processed into wood chips and used as fuel for a gasifier, which converts the solid wood into combustible gases. This reaction occurs at about 1000 degrees and is carefully monitored and controlled for efficiency. The system produces virtually all of the heat needed to operate the greenhouses throughout the year and in addition to the environmental advantages that this closed-carbon system offers there have been significant cost savings in fuel costs.
Before Len Busch Roses started this relationship with local tree care companies, brush and wood chips were primarily taken to other yard-waste facilities or piled up and burned by many companies. While composting these materials, as is done at most yard-waste sites, is certainly a preferable practice to burning, both methods are failing to utilize the energy that is captured during the gasification process. The capture of energy through gasification is considered a closed-carbon system because the combustion of the wood breaks the carbon bonds within to produce heat energy. The byproducts of the reaction are then reabsorbed by growing trees as they take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce the sugars that the trees or shrubs convert into their woody tissues. Other sources of energy that we commonly use, such as natural gas, are extracted from the earth and then released into the atmosphere by their combustion which results in a net gain of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, meaning that it traps heat within our atmosphere. Research continues to link the massively increasing amount of carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere to the increasingly volatile weather events of the last years and shifts in climactic patterns, the most dramatic example of which is the depletion of the polar ice cap.
If you're around my age, you remember following Will Steger's expeditions as he and his team travelled by dogsled across the Arctic as part of elementary school science. I can't think of anything cooler that we learned about than that as we followed their course and progress, learning about the conditions they braved and dangers being constantly confronted. A place so far away and foreign, yet related to Minnesota by ice and cold was an ideal setting for the imagination of children, and undoubtedly sparked passion in many young scientific minds. A few weeks ago a small crowd braved a local snow and ice storm to see Will Steger speak about those days and more recent trips to the Arctic ice. An expedition to the North Pole is no longer possible by dog sled today, and the reduction of the ice caps is so dramatic that it is has to be seen to comprehend (http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/thick-melt.html).
In the face of giant obstacles, small efforts coalesce into the movements that impact the world, and there are clearly changes that we can all adopt in order to preserve the lakes, rivers, forests and fields where we spend the time with people we love. A big step in caring for these things is understanding where we get the energy to fuel our lives, and where we dispose of the waste that all people generate. Join Natural Creations in this effort to recycle trees and shrubs into sustainable energy by supporting the local tree care companies that participate in this awesome program. We also hope that you'll take a second look at where you buy the roses, tulips, lilies, snapdragons and other gorgeous floral delights that brighten our long winter here and support local companies like Len Busch Roses that are pairing economic and environmental responsibility.
Pat Etzel (left) of Len Busch Roses with staff from Natural Creations