Usually, the term “farm to table” means that the produce on your dining table has been grown locally and, thus, creates a far smaller carbon footprint than food transported from hundreds or thousands of miles away.
But at the Tellus plant in Belle Glade, “farm to table” has a vastly different meaning. The company makes disposable tableware, such as plates and bowls, and even takeout containers. But not from plastic or styrofoam.
Instead, Tellus — the name is Latin for “Earth” — uses the fiber left over after crushing the juice from sugar cane. Called “bagasse,” the fiber is frequently used by sugar producers, including U.S. Sugar Corp. and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, to provide sustainable energy for their operations.
Tellus — a joint venture between the 44-member Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida and the privately owned Florida Crystals Corp. — is adding another use for the bagasse: making environmentally friendly bowls, plates and takeout containers.
“We are very happy to be part of the Glades community and are so proud to bring these products to market. We are the first to have U.S.-grown and -made products of this kind,” says Becky Serafini, marketing and business development director for Tellus.
“We begin by processing the sugarcane fiber to isolate pure cellulose. The cellulose slurry is then taken into specialized molding equipment. Through custom forming molds, we shape the material into takeout containers, plates and bowls. We then package and ship them for sale,” its website explains (www.tellusproducts.com).
The plant is operating now, and the company is prepared for growth, says Serafini: “We are operating the plant now and will continue adding production capacity as our business grows. We will start with a small assortment of sizes and grow the offerings in accordance with customer/market demands.
“The products will be sold on Amazon to consumers, and through food-service distribution to restaurants,” Serafini adds. “This too will continue to grow over time.”
Watch a video of mechanized sugar-cane harvesting.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the 120,000-square-foot plant was held March 27 at 1500 W. Sugarhouse Road in Belle Glade. The Tellus plant is on the same property as the mill, called the Glades Sugar House, that the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative uses (www.scgc.org).
Plenty of bagasse is left over
During the sugar-cane harvesting season, which usually runs from about October through mid-March, huge piles of bagasse (pronounced bah-gass) have historically piled up at sugar mills throughout the Glades. That’s because of the amount of sugar cane harvested is itself huge.
For example, the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative alone harvests about 70,000 acres each season, producing more than 3 million tons of sugar cane. Once crushed and processed, that cane results in more than 350,000 tons of sugar. (U.S. Sugar — the largest sugar company in America — produces about 800,000 tons of refined sugar.)
Notes Tellus’ Serafini, “We have bagasse left over from our annual harvest. And while we have always put that to the best use possible, we now have the opportunity to use it to create products that will replace products that are less environmentally friendly — like Styrofoam disposables.”
The new plant has 78 solar panels to help provide “green” power. For the video (courtesy of Tellus), visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsFyQKd-heg.