Green America: Growing the Green Economy for People and the Planet

Johns Family Enterprises
Okeechobee, FL
Nominated by Native American Bank

McGill-Brighton Regional Compost Facility
A story of dedication and perserverance, a project of
Johns Family Enterprises of Okeechobee and AgriCycle Alliance of Tallahassee

At the headwaters of the Florida Everglades, where Fisheating Creek and the Kissimmee River flow into Lake Okeechobee, the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation is home to descendants of a handful of indomitable people who resisted US government efforts to force them from their land in the 1800s.  They tenaciously retained their independence by disappearing into the swamp. 

Years passed.  Engineers drained The Lake’s natural flood plains and straightened river channels in the name of progress.  Agronomists focused on plant nutrition to boost yields at the expense of water and soil health. Within 150 years, the delicate ecosystem that provided sanctuary to those early survivors was in big trouble.

Seminole Tribal Elder Stanlo Johns, who remembers when water in the North Lake Okeechobee Basin was pollution-free and teaming with fish, decided to do something about it.  Following in the tradition of his determined forbearers, he is fighting for the swamps.  This time, however, he stands with an army of governments, non-profits and individuals working to save the Everglades. 

While a new generation of engineers works to put the "meander" back into the river system and natural sheet-flow from The Lake into the Everglades, Johns has teamed up with an eco-business development firm and a compost manufacturer to realize a dream seven years and millions of dollars in the making -- a high-tech, indoor, regional composting facility now under construction on the Brighton Reservation. Johns' goal is to convert Buckminster Fuller's observation -- "pollution is valuable chemistry in the wrong place" -- into economically and environmentally sustainable action, pulling hundreds of tons of excess phosphorous and other nutrients from the Okeechobee basin for beneficial reuse elsewhere.

"Humans have broken nature's soil cycle. Our topsoil is gone," explains Johns, who, during his 38 years of service to the Seminole Cattle Company, was instrumental in making it one of the leading cattle producers in the United States.  "We landfill and incinerate organic material causing pollution instead of returning it to the soil.  Then we waste fossil fuel making synthetic fertilizer to replace the nutrients we've burned or buried, ship it across the ocean, dump it on our land, and watch it wash off when it rains -- still more pollution.  Even raw manure and unprocessed bio-solids cause problems.  We have to stop this nonsense.  Organics need to be composted...period.  What we took from the soil has to go back."

With processing capacity of 100,000 tons per year, the McGill-Brighton composting plant can handle the annual production of all manure solids from the 19 dairy barns that dot the surrounding area or transform the food waste and other organic wastes now going into landfills into high-performance, high-value soil amendments.  Designed and operated by McGill Environmental Systems, the facility enhances economic diversity for the Seminole Tribe, which sanctioned the project financed by the Native American Bank of Denver.  Once the plant is up and running, joint venture partners Johns Family Enterprises of Okeechobee and AgriCycle Alliance of Tallahassee intend to replicate their success.


Facility
Concept image of the future Brighton facility.
Project
Under construction!

Sports Field

The results of using compost! A sports field treated with compost (left side) and left untreated (right side).