Sun Sausage

Wampler's Farm Sausage going green

Greg Wilkerson News Herald

Standing a few feet from the tin shack his grandfather built in 1937 to slaughter pigs, Ted Wampler, Jr., accepted a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to help cover the cost of installing solar panels at the farm in Loudon County.

The $46,875 grant is part of federal government's Rural Energy for America Program. It is one of several initiative's the company has made in recent years to be more environmentally aware. Along with the USDA grant, Wampler's Farm has received a grant from the state for $75,000 and funds from the federal government for $56,250 for a total of $178,125. "It's the right thing to do," Wampler said. "With the three grants that we're getting, from a business standpoint we've got a four-year payback." Wampler also stressed the value of green energy in marketing the company in the future with an increasing emphasis on using renewable energy sources.

The company already implemented a water recycling program for cooling all the machines and produces less garbage through recycling and other less-wasteful practices. "We've saved 2.5 million gallons of water in six months," Wampler said. "We have reduced our landfill contribution by 80 percent." The company used to take three dumpsters to the landfill five times a week and now Wampler said they take one dumpster three times a week.

Future plans include capturing and reusing the water in the refrigeration towers and using new technology to capture wind energy generated by the six airplane props on the cooling system. Wampler said they also plan to build a new barn in the future and construct the entire roof with solar panels. "Our goal is to go up to a megawatt," he said. The currently funded project is expected to generate 23 killowatts of solar energy.

In addition to Wampler's Farm, the USDA representatives presented checks to two other businesses. Home Town Medical Clinic in Madisonville received $18,105, and Apalachee Nursery in Turtletown received $11,327. All three businesses were supported in their solar energy efforts by Sustainable Future, an East Tennessee-based business that helps with the process from grant applications through final installation. "Our farming communities have been the backbone of our country," said Harvey Abouelata, a spokesman for Sustainable Future. "The sun is an unlimited resource. It's a renewable energy." He said solar collection represents the next stage for farming. "It's farming of energy," he said.

Bobby Goode, State Director for USDA Rural Development, presented the check to the Wampler family, including Ted Wampler, Sr., who began the business selling his father's pork to mom and pop stores in Loudon County after World War 2. "In 1937 my dad put this little tin building out by the creek bed," Wampler, Sr. said. "They ground the meat by hand in the kitchen of our little house."

Today, his son said they use the same basic process they used all those years ago, but they do it much quicker with new technology.

"We go from a live animal to a finished product in 40 minutes," he said. The sausage is shipped all over the country. "As an agricultural company we understand the importance of taking care of the environment," Wampler said.

The Wampler family hosted the USDA presentation for the large crowd who attended.

Photos From Presentation Ceremony

Solar sells: City makes way for rising industry

By Larisa Brass News Sentinel
Ted Wampler Jr. wouldn’t exactly consider himself an environmentalist, but he knows a good business deal when he sees it.

With the help of grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state of Tennessee, plus federal tax incentives, Wampler Sausage will soon begin installation of a 22.75 kilowatt photovoltaic system to generate solar power.

The Lenoir City meat packaging plant is one of a growing number of local companies investing in solar. Some of them, including Wampler, will be showcased in one of two solar events taking place this week, demonstrating the growth of the technology in East Tennessee.

On Thursday the USDA will hold an event at Wampler Sausage highlighting investments the agency has made in clean-energy projects. Wampler is getting $46,875 from USDA in addition to a $75,000 grant from the state and a $56,250 federal grant, essentially a prepaid tax credit on the system.

On Saturday, the city of Knoxville will host a Solar Tour and Fair. The event will include workshops and booths at Krutch Park Extension in Knoxville and a primarily self-guided tour of 15 photovoltaic installations in the area.

The week’s activities demonstrate a definite uptick in solar interest locally, particularly in the business community, said Gil Milear-Hough with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy who also works with Knoxville’s Solar City program, a Department of Energy designation the city was granted last year.

Milear-Hough credits the long-term extension of federal tax credits last fall with ramping up the market for the solar industry. Since then, two major solar manufacturers have announced they will build large production plants in Tennessee, federal stimulus money has encouraged development of solar technologies, TVA has expanded incentives for solar production, and federal and state grants have sweetened the pot for solar customers.

“The way I look at it,” Wampler said, “we’ve paid in thousands of dollars in taxes. We’re getting some of that back to invest. It does generate green power, and we’re going to put that power back in the grid. From that standpoint it’s the right thing to do.”

The growing interest among these customers has naturally attracted a growing number of businesses to service them.

“Three years ago, we had one solar installer in the state, then two,”

Milear-Hough said. “Now we’ve got 12 solar installers in Knoxville.”

In spite of growing competition among installers and contractors in Knoxville, Milear-Hough said the companies have cooperated surprisingly well to promote their business with events like the upcoming fair and tour.

“One of the really neat things we’ve got going on in Tennessee … (is that) companies are all working together to try to help the market grow,” he said.

“They’re all competitors, all fighting for a relatively small niche still, but they’re all working together to help people spread the word.”

Erin Burns, sustainability coordinator for the city of Knoxville, said the Solar City program also has helped provide the region with a central, credible source of information for a relatively unknown product.

“It’s important to kind of have a champion,” she said. “The city has signed on saying, here is something we want to be part of.”

But, for companies, the market also has helped in that regard. It’s becoming important to be green, even in the sausage business, Wampler said.

Longer term, he said, the company plans to expand its solar footprint.

“We definitely have plans for another green project that’ll be pretty big to follow-up on this one,” he said. “It would be great for us to … (someday) say we generate 50 percent of our power consumption through green technology.”