One of the unsung heroes of Morristown’s third annual Gran Fondo NJ could perch comfortably on the head of a tire valve.
The humble black soldier fly will play a behind-the-scenes role, in an experiment that seeks to make the Sept 8, 2013, cycling event a model of sustainability.
“We’re calling this the Green Fondo. We want to use this as a template for other events, as a ‘green event’ management service,” said Marty Epstein, who wears two helmets as organizer of the for-profit Gran Fondo NJ and president of Sustainable Morristown, a nonprofit incorporated last year.
The Gran Fondo–the name is Italian for “big ride”– offers bikers a choice of scenic rides, ranging from 18- to 107 miles, through Morris, Hunterdon and Somerset counties.
Rest stops feature healthy snacks and all the rides culminate with a cookout and music outside of Headquarters Plaza in Morristown. Marty and business partner Bill Ruddick anticipate 2,000 cyclists this year.
Sustainable Morristown aims to make the day nearly waste-neutral, by arranging for recycling and composting.
Recyclables from the post-ride meal will go to Morristown’s recycling station. The town will make money from re-sale of the recycled materials, and the weight of the collected items also will count towards an annual tonnage figure that earns grant money from the state, according to Erin Guthrie, coordinator for Sustainable Morristown.
Composting is where the flies come in.
Green Waste Technologies Inc. has been hired to haul food wastes to its Plainfield warehouse.
The garbage will be devoured by armies of these larvae. Some of the insects then will be “harvested”… a polite way of saying they will squeezed and crunched into biodiesel fuel for the company’s trucks and protein-rich feed for fish farms and aquarium goldfish.
“Nature is the greatest recycler. No energy is lost; it’s just transferred,” said Olive Lynch, an opera singer-turned-entrepreneur who started Green Waste Technologies two years ago. In a Soylent Green twist, some of the flies are fed to their cannibalistic brethren.
One could describe the venture as in its larval stage, acknowledged its sales director, Chris Kogler. Only a handful of companies worldwide are attempting the fly approach to composting, he said.
Voracious as larvae, black soldier flies emerge as mouthless insects that die within days. “They live for the principle purpose of propagating,” explained Chris, who met Olive at–where else?–an incubator. More specifically, a sustainable business incubator hatched at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Olive’s eclectic career included a stint running a horse farm in Maryland. She became interested in organic farming, and discovered a research paper by a pair of entymologists from Georgia.
“I call this ‘urban farming,’” said Olive, who holds musical degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the Curtis Institute of Music.
In the country, farmers feed hay to cows, and turn the cows into meat and other products. “Instead of feeding the larvae hay, we feed them food waste,” she said.
In another pilot project, Olive is putting two horses to work hauling wagons through central Jersey neighborhoods to collect compost from residents. She figures her Percherons can perform the task at half the cost of a truck.
Sustainable Morristown hopes to prove a point by recycling at the state’s cycling mecca.
“I feel like if we can do it at the Gran Fondo, we can do it anywhere. It’s a jumping-off point,” said Erin Guthrie.
Sustainable Morristown hosts Festival Earth every spring, along with Green Drinks happy hours at the Hyatt Morristown, where the nonprofit will hold its annual awards dinner on Sept. 22. The organization has partnered with MorristownGreen.com on several events and is helping the town pursue re-certification from Sustainable Jersey, an outfit that rates municipalities’ progress on environmental and social issues.
As for cycling, the Gran Fondo is adding more timed hill climbs for serious competitors. More than 100 teams have entered, and they will have their own staging area, near the Century 21 department store on North Park Place in Morristown. Team Marty’s, representing Marty’s Reliable Cycle, will be led by Darren Milun and Nikki Ragonese.
Over its first two years, the Gran Fondo has donated $37,500 to The Seeing Eye Inc., Grow It Green Morristown and Homeless Solutions Inc. Sustainable Morristown joins the list of charity recipients this year. By Marty Epstein’s estimate, organizations have used the Gran Fondo to raise $250,000 for their causes.
Cyclists spend months training for the 107-mile route, he said with pride.
“It’s really hard. You finish that ride, you’ve really accomplished something. We feel great that we’re helping people’s health and wellness,” said Marty, 64, who biked Jersey from bottom to top–all 213 miles of it–in a single day in June.
He promises routes for the Gran Fondo NJ will be so well marked that riders won’t need cue sheets. It’s attention to details as large as New Jersey and as small as black soldier flies that sets apart this event from other Fondos, in Marty’s opinion.
“We’re not the biggest,” he said. “But we think we are the best.”