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Farm initiative at work providing biofuel for local governments

By John Daley | Posted - Mar. 15, 2010 at 6:00 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- An innovative collaboration in sustainability is gaining steam in Utah. The goal is to grow, on what was unused city land, a plant that can be used to make a biofuel, which in turn will be used in government fleets.

Near Salt Lake International Airport, KSL News watched Jason Heward steer a John Deere tractor around 20 acres of land that had been idle for years. The project site is located at approximately 500 South and 4500 West.

Heward is the church farm manager of the Urda Church Farm near Tooele. He was readying the land for seeds of safflower, which can be crushed to make oil -- a biofuel.

What is... biofuel?
Biofuel is gas or liquid fuel made from renewable organic resources like plant material (biomass). Includes wood, wood waste, wood liquors, peat, railroad ties, wood sludge, spent sulfite liquors, agricultural waste, straw, tires, fish oils, tall oil, sludge waste, waste alcohol, municipal solid waste, landfill gases, other waste, and ethanol blended into motor gasoline.

"This would be an excellent use. There's nothing else they can use it for except grazing, or something like that, for cattle. I think this puts it to better use to help our economy," Heward said.

The project is a unique collaboration. Salt Lake County started the Urban Farming Initiative.

"Our Urban Farming Initiative is going to be valley-wide, and we're going to be looking at idle land that local governments own that can be put to some type of beneficial use," Salt Lake County Councilman Jim Bradley said.

"The pioneers were self-sustaining when they came here, and it's our goal to create a more self-sustaining community," Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said.

What are... biosolids?
Biosolids are treated sewage sludge. They are nutrient-rich organic materials resulting from the treatment of domestic sewage in a treatment facility. When treated and processed, these residuals can be recycled and applied as fertilizer to improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth. -EPA

Salt Lake City owns the land, which is the home of a future sewage treatment plant.

"This is the kind of thing, from my perspective, needs to be just an integral part of what we do in Salt Lake City going forward, to move to a sustainable community," said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is supplying farm equipment and labor. South Davis Sewer District is donating the bio-solids generated from wastewater treatment. Researchers come from Utah State University.

"This is a new agronomic frontier," says USU researcher Dallas Hanks. "We don't know how to farm these kinds of lands. We know how to do traditional farming on traditional lands, but when it comes to city farming, it's a whole new ballgame."

The hope is the crop thrives and helps fuel city and county vehicles. If all goes well, there's another 3,000 to 5,000 acres of government-owned land in the valley -- the new frontier for urban farming.

Project managers say this is a very inexpensive project. It's dry-land agriculture, and safflower is a very drought-tolerant plant that doesn't need much water or maintenance. Besides some staff time, the cost is about $5,000.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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