Student founds company creating sustaining revenue for YCAP, utilizes solar energy

As a child, food drives were always about the ice cream parties students earned in recognition of their effort. But Collin Styring said one day he realized it should be about more than that.

“One year I asked myself a question: `Why would anyone hungry or not, starving or not, want to eat the food I was so willing to give away,” he said. “That year I joined the school leadership team with the goal to have the best canned food drive in (Chehalem Valley) Middle School history. It was very successful but I realized I hadn’t solved the problem I wanted to solve, but (just) created a bigger pile of weird food.”by: GARY ALLEN - Handing it down - Green Food Nation founder Collin Styring will hand over leadership of the nonprofit to his sister Gillian when he heads off to Harvard University in the fall.

It took him about two years to formulate a better plan for solving hunger issues with the formation of Green Food Nation.

“I passed by a farm that had solar panels on it and thought it was cool that a farmer was essentially harvesting sunshine and it was on my way to the Oregon Food Bank, where in the lobby I saw a poster that had a pyramid on it,” he said.

The poster held a pyramid showing the bottom, largest tier of one-time donors. The top simply held two words: sustaining volunteer.

“Sustaining volunteers are obviously the most important volunteers, but renewable energy is the ultimate sustaining volunteer for any nonprofit,” he said. “These nonprofits are always looking for the next donation. One family could donate one year and never donate again, so their income fluctuates. The idea is to provide income certainty in nonprofits and food banks, which in turn provides food security in the community.”

Styring installed the first project for Green Food Nation two weeks ago at the Camellia Court Apartments, owned by the Yamhill County Action Partnership — 20 solar panels.

“There are incentive options run through utility companies, they are called Feed-In Tariff programs,” he said. “Instead of what you commonly do with solar panels, which offsets your energy costs, through solar payment options you don’t do that, you actually sell the energy back to the power company.”

At a rate three times what consumers pay for energy, the 5 kilowatt-hour panels can produce about $1,500 a year in reliable donations to YCAP. He said over the life of the panels, estimated at about 50 years, it will produce upwards of $75,000 for the food bank.

“We’re excited it’s actually up and running,” Styring said.

But this installment is just the beginning for Green Food Nation. The 18-year-old plans to start applying for grants to continue expanding the projects, and plans to get involved with campaigning for 2015 legislation that would increase the pay-rate for solar energy.

“In 2015, they’ll be drafting legislation for the Feed-In Tariff program. We’ll be actively involved in that,” said Gillian Styring, an eighth-grade student who will take over for her brother as president of Green Food Nation when he leaves for Harvard University in the fall. “We hope (to raise the purchase amount) to 54 cents per kilowatt-hour. We also plan to in the future expand out to the rest of Oregon and other states as well.”

Despite the recent first step by the organization, Collin Styring, a senior at Riverdale High School in Portland, has already given talks on his ideas and new concepts for utilizing renewable energy and has been asked to speak at an upcoming TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference June 21 in Portland.

“I feel as though this is a new economy model for nonprofits in general,” he said. “I feel this organization is creating that system and furthering our nation’s investment in renewable energy and opening up a whole new market of the solar panel industry.”

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