Midwest wholesaler's new fresh produce facility plugs into the sun
The fresh produce industry has suddenly become greener, thanks to Sirna & Sons Produce, a leading wholesale supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables in the Midwest.
At its newly expanded, state-of-the-art cold storage and packing facility in Ravenna, OH, the company is now generating clean, renewable solar power to supply more than a third of the electricity it uses.
The Sirnas installed a 453-kilowatt solar-electric power system on the rooftop of their modern 50,000-square-foot produce-cooling, packing and distribution facility, newly built at its Ohio headquarters.
“We are completely committed to achieving constant improvement in our environmental performance, and our expansion offered us a great opportunity,” said Tom Sirna, president of the four-generation, family-owned company, which will celebrate its 80th anniversary in 2019.
By producing its own clean power with sunlight, the company will cut its electricity costs by more than $45,000 this year, according to Sirna. Over the 25 years that their 1,331 solar panels are warrantied to operate, the company is projected to save $1.5 million in electricity costs, while sidestepping 25 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
By converting sunlight directly into usable power — about 500,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year — Sirna & Sons is reducing its annual carbon footprint by about 450 tons, according to Al Frasz, president of Dovetail Solar and Wind, the Ohio-based company that designed and installed the Sirnas’ solar-electric system. That is the amount of carbon dioxide that a coal-burning power plant would otherwise emit into the atmosphere to produce as much electricity for the Sirnas as they now produce for their own use with solar power.
According to Frasz, it would take thirty acres of mature oak forest to absorb that much carbon dioxide annually.
“We’re seeing that more and more of our customers are concerned about environmental performance,” said Sirna. “And not only their own, but that of their suppliers, too. Now the restaurants, food service and supermarkets we serve can assure their consumers that clean solar power plays a big part in supplying their fruits and vegetables. We’re all very excited about using sunshine to help power our new facility.”
In the company’s lobby, visitors to Sirna & Sons now see a live screen view of their solar system’s activity, depicting in real time the system’s accumulating environmental benefits.
Along with adopting solar power, the Sirnas have installed energy-conserving LED lighting and motion sensors throughout their new facility, which is in use 24/7.
To further reduce their environmental impact, in constructing the new facility the Sirnas used a long-lasting, recyclable composite siding inside and out. This TruGrain siding material, which resembles fine wood, is made with 25 percent rice husks, an agricultural waste by-product.
Along with an eye toward maximizing their new facility’s environmental advantages, the Sirnas also designed key aspects with the utmost in bio-security and food safety in mind. All outside and interior doors are locked at all times and can only be opened with security keypads by authorized employees.
For all inbound produce deliveries, the Sirnas added a dedicated lane, security gate, call box and surveillance camera. Drivers delivering fresh produce must speak with someone in receiving before pulling into a secured dock.
In memory of the Sirna’s late mother, Christine Sirna, the company also established “Christine’s Cuts,” as a separate female-owned, fresh-cut produce business and added a dedicated 6,000-square-foot processing facility on site.
The new fresh-cut facility is certified in the Global Food Safety Initiative by PrimusGFS and as kosher. This addition of fresh-cuts to the company’s product line enhances Sirna and Sons’ ability to meet the expanding needs of their customers.
What do those customers think about the Sirnas’ use of clean, non-polluting solar power to generate a large portion the electricity they use?
“We ask them about it all the time,” said Tom Sirna. “They love it.”