Full Sun Company: Processing the Seeds of Local Food System Change
By Austin Robert Davis
In early 2014 Full Sun Company, a start-up business, was co-founded by Netaka White and Davis McManus. Fueled by an interest in helping family farms grow, Full Sun began processing sunflower and non-GMO canola oil crops into specialty food-grade oil and high-protein meal for the farmers. Sunflower and canola oil distribution picked up quickly through local CSAs, farm stores, specialty food shops, health and wellness centers, and direct sales to chefs in the Northeast.
Netaka White previously served as the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative’s (VBI) program director, which directly helped to develop the business model to nurture farm partnerships, both as growers and recipients of oilseed meal – the other product that’s generated from making the oil. At Full Sun oilseeds are pressed with large machinery, producing oil and a granular meal. The team at Full Sun Company learned a lot about seed storage and oil pressing from the early VBI grantees, such as John Williamson of State Line Farm, and Roger Rainville of Borderview Farm.
The first of the two products, the seed meal, has been used as fuel for pellet stoves, or in the case with Full Sun, sold as fertilizer for crops, or nutritional meal for livestock. At full operation, Full Sun can pump out one ton of meal per day – necessary to meet the growing demand of such customers as The Intervale in Burlington, Vermont and several local pig, poultry, dairy, and beef producers.
The second product, the oil, is used as culinary oil for cooking. To maintain quality standards for their products, Full Sun Company diverts any of the oil that does not meet their standards to Vermont Bioenergy Initiative biofuel producers to undergo further processing and become biofuel. Approximately 250 to 300 gallons of off-spec oil for biodiesel has been produced since February 2014.
In October 2014, Full Sun Company halted operations to make room for growth to meet the increased demand for their products and scale up to align with Vermont’s accelerating agricultural economy. White and McManus acquired the former Vermont Soap building in Middlebury, Vermont in order to build a full-scale mill and achieve their anticipated greater capacity. Over the course of one of the coldest winters in recent history, the Full Sun team made the renovations and adjustments needed to repurpose the building into the first non-GMO- verified oil mill in New England. By March of 2015 Full Sun Company had pressed sunflower and canola seeds to make their first batch of specialty oils. The new operation can yield 130 gallons of oil per day – about 2600 gallons per month!
White notes, “David and I are in this with the interest of having a transformative effect on local agriculture and food systems,” showing no shortage of innovation or ambition. As a sign of progress, the operation is certified GMO-free, and the next steps are being taken towards becoming certified organic.
As it grows, Full Sun would like to buy from local grower-suppliers and work with local businesses to package and label feed that is to be distributed to farmers of varying sizes, from backyard chicken growers to larger operations. Collaborating with Vermont breweries and distilleries is also planned. Full Sun is working with one local distillery to put together a package for farmers so they have markets for profitable grain crops throughout four years of rotation (rye, wheat, sunflowers, etc.) and can offer farmers better than the indexed prices for these locally grown grains and oilseeds.
Learn more about Full Sun Company at www.fullsuncompany.com.
Austin Robert Davis is an intern with the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, a program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. Learn more at www.VermontBioenergy.com.