What happens when a farmer, a banker and an artist come together? In one case in Fresno, the outcome is environmental awareness.
More than 100 people gathered Wednesday at the Beneficial State Bank branch at 170 West Shaw Ave. for a viewing of works done by Fresno artist Anne Whitehurst.
Whitehurst, originally from Los Banos, displayed her “Sustainable Agriculture Series” to guests. An image on display was of a “Zero Net Energy Farm” owned by renewable energy company Biodico. The biodiesel plant in southeastern Fresno County opened in December 2015 and is funded by a grant from the California Energy Commission. Biodico President Russell Teall said the grant was placed into an account with Beneficial State Bank, because the usual bank he had did not embrace renewable energy or sustainability.
The bank’s co-CEO, Kat Taylor, who is the wife of billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, said the bank is unlike others because of “radical” transparency that comes along with its social justice approach to banking.
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“We will not finance fossil fuels,” Taylor said. “We need to change the banking system for good, and a way we can do that is to be a pioneering bank that shows other banks what they need to do to keep their social license.”
Taylor said her bank received many new customers who have left banks affiliated with the Dakota Access Pipeline, the project that would ship oil from North Dakota to Illinois via an underground pipeline that crosses land sacred to Native Americans in the Dakotas and Iowa.
“They are looking for that alignment (and) their instincts are right,” Taylor said. “It’s their money funding the banking system and they get to have an opinion about the economy that the banking system is financing.”
Taylor said the bank co-sponsored the event because she believes Biodico stays true to the adage: “waste is only a verb, never a noun.”
The plant is located in Five Points and is managed by Teall, of Santa Barbara. He said the plant uses wet and dry agriculture waste along with wind and solar energy to power the plant.
The biodiesel plant, painted by Whitehurst from an aerial perspective, takes up two acres out of the 1,300 acres owned by Red Rock Ranch. Teall says there are about five other similar renewable energy plants in the state, and hopes more farms begin to take up renewable energy processes.
Red Rock Ranch, owned by John Diener, is expected to be fully self-sustainable by 2018, Teall said.
Whitehurst said environmentalists need to embrace the farmers and farmers need to embrace environmentalists.
“People who love the earth are under a very skewed perspective of the farmer,” Whitehurst said. “The farmers, in fact, are the stewards of the earth ... I want to, with art, bring that together.”