Kate's Goodbye

This is ridiculous.  Kate was an Intern with us for a long time.  And she has only moved to Raleigh.  When I read this, I sadden, and suggest the entire project move into her apartment.  Here are Kate’s words:

No one can believe Kate is actually gone.

No one can believe Kate is actually gone.

I landed on this checker board through a random playing of moves.

I was not a die hard biofuel fanatic, had never geeked out on plumbing magazines or even considered the diesel engine. I landed at Piedmont Biofuels after trying my hand in pharmaceuticals, 2.5 years of Peace Corps, a season intern on a CSA organic farm, and a long unemployed winter discovering what recession really means. I spent some time nannying my then 7 month old nephew where taking full advantage of the serenity of his nap time, I stumbled upon Idealist.org, where Piedmont Biofuels posts their internship opportunities.

Having an ever increasing desire to explore sustainable routes, I was thrilled to interview, be accepted, and set foot on project. While I was greatly intimidated by the big brains behind Piedmont Biofuels, I felt excitement those first days staying in “white”, sharing a wall with the reactor room, falling asleep to the soft blowing of drying fuel. There was energy everywhere. There is energy everywhere. Creative ideas, hard workers and a shared sense of mission consume this project. Everyone is conscious of turning off light switches, trying their best at the 100 mile diet, biking or walking when possible. Upon using the bathroom I can tell how hydrated the woman was there before me. Beet season was interesting…

My internship experience ran the length of the biodiesel spectrum. I was a complete newbie. I chuckled often titrating my first few batches of WVO, reminiscing my college days of organic chemistry lab thinking how useless a burette and phenythalene were in the world, yet there I was titrating, 5 years later. Through the mixing of methoxide and a switching of valves, I witnessed transesterification before my eyes. There was an emulsion or two and re-reactions for failed specs to learn from. 27/3 tests were always scattered about. A week in, I somehow wrote the SOP for cavitation. Snow fell, covered the solar panels and melted.

I eventually gravitated towards working alongside the grease goddess where golden (I’m talking grease ya’ll) showers became somewhat frequent. We continued to break out 1500 gallon routes and obtain new oil collection contracts. Two blondes behind the wheel of a large truck and long stinger led to memorable conversations with strangers, odd floaters in barrels, and an ever growing respect for what we do and are trying to achieve in our community. The binary star system orbits on…

Some of my most rewarding experiences in this project lay in the numerous opportunities to represent Piedmont Biofuels in elementary, middle and high schools in the area as well as quality time in the Clean Tech trailer at various festivals and events. Though the mission is to shed a light on the biodiesel world, I came away from each experience learning more about the state of the world in which we live. Having an 8th grade student adamantly disagree with me that grapes can have seeds, I realized that getting out there to reach today’s youth goes well beyond preaching biodiesel.

My internship experience held clarity through attending Biofuels 101 at the Central Carolina Community College. I had been out of college for almost 5 years so setting foot on a campus was approached with heavy strides, yet being a part of one of the first Biofuels curriculums in the country was thrilling and proved to be a significant support towards fully understanding the biodiesel process. Thank you Andy and Bob. I look forward to seeing the CCCC continue to grow.

Learning and experiencing all aspects of biodiesel may be the nucleus of the Piedmont Biofuels internship, but the orbiting electrons of the Chatham County community fully complete this atomic experience. Between the Marketplace eats, the General Store’s constant supply of ear candy, music festivals, farms of organic veggies and meats, giant Soda Shop milkshakes, local lunch at Piedmont, crop mobs, fundraising events, pot lucks, a wallet full of Plenty’s, all woven with amazing and inspiring people, it’s hard to rationalize leaving.

I will always remember a ride in Cream Puff with one of these amazing and inspiring people, Lyle, where we discussed Piedmont’s selling point as a sort of readjustment sanctuary for returned Peace Corps volunteers. He also delved into the subject of international development, with the idea that those trying to seek it need not look overseas but to Pittsboro. It took me a few minutes to swallow and another few to digest the idea. I had spent close to 3 years living, breathing, and going diarrhea all over a 3rd world country, and this man was telling me that development work should be focused in Pittsboro?

As with all of Lyle’s thoughts (except for the idea of what Jorts are), the idea permitted consideration. While Pittsboro is well beyond the employing of basic needs which most 3rd world countries may not have (though Pittsboro’s drinking water is something to be considered), we are still faced with the biggest obstacle of all: trying to change a culture. From something as basic as putting a tool back after you have used it to understanding and implementing the use of renewable fuels and alternative energy, these cultural changes seem so simple yet can be as hard to budge as a loaded ion exchange column. I realized my vision had remained overseas, it was time to refocus.

Piedmont Biofuels Industrial recently “married” Piedmont Biofuels coop, a decision made by the co-op board of directors. Employees of the coop side vacillated with emotions. Myself included. I remember our first discussions of this merger taking place around a thrilling bonfire on Shackleford Island during a co-op weekend retreat. Perhaps it was the energy of the wind that night or the faint buzz of tequila running through or veins, but we all pretty much decided the idea was preposterous and felt unity in all that we had worked hard to accomplish and at that point continued to do. A whopping 5 of us collected the feedstock, produced, and distributed on spec, quality fuel to over 500 members in the central Carolina area, the occasional fuel for a concert or festival event too. Though our production environment may have been a bit “janky” to the outside eye, the bend in the Pittsboro-Moncure Road was making it happen along with the support of a few quality members.

Though I had only been an intern for a little over 5 months, my emotions still got the best of me leading the last few tours at that bend in the road, seeing my reflection during conversation with coop member Don Mueller in the GWZ windows, knowing that beyond that reflection were the heated settling tanks, all enabled by the solar hot water heater Don himself installed. He spoke of the early days on project, the animation of members, work parties and most importantly, the sense of community. I struggled with the idea that if small is possible, why must the desire of bigger consume us?

I realize the word “small” is a matter of perspective. As pressing the need to deal with our energy crisis, the more we need to expand the renewable fuel mission. Central Carolina is quite small when considering the entirety of the United States, though I am constantly realizing the impact Piedmont Biofuels has and continues to make across our state and to far reaches of the country. A drop in the bucket they say, but a mighty powerful one I’ve seen.

It has been nice to see the “marriage” work, to be one strong identity. I just hope the membership base continues to be animated and inspired despite the “industrial” environment.

I have now completed my senior internship and realize Chatham County has ruined me. The opportunity to be a part of such a community I fear will be a struggle to ever find again. They say it is easier to leave then to be left, yet I wonder if everyone that shares this bubble and welcomed me in realizes the impacts they have made on my life, and how leaving the intensity of these relationships and experiences puts the above statement in check. This is hard. There is so much good here. The Piedmont Biofuels internship experience cannot be properly described on a single web page.

I know I was merely a pawn on this checker board but I’d like to think I provided some support to a bishop, rook, king or queen. I’d like to thank all those that exhibited such patience with me through my novice biodiesel days, welcomed me into such an incredible family of community and provided endless positive memories of the last 7 months of my life. I depart with excitement for strangers not yet met to experience such a unique opportunity.

Best of luck to all.

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6 Responses to Kate's Goodbye

  1. Matt Rudolf says:

    It has been an inspiration for me to interact with a person so hard working and soft spoken, so brilliant, and yet so humble. Wherever you land, it will be a better place for your presence.


  2. Camille says:

    Kate’s impact on my life was profound. She inspired me with how gracefully she melded into our community. For one thing, Kate is an expert at performing random acts of acknowledged kindness. When she and Bart first hit our scene, they spent hours every Friday volunteering their time to help clean up the kitchen after Local Lunch.

    Kate is also skilled at listening, really listening, to what is on the minds and hearts of others. It looked so easy when she did it but when it’s my turn to listen, I find it nearly impossible to stop my own lips from flapping.

    But I’m inspired by Kate and I’m going to keep on trying. Since meeting Kate, I find myself listening harder for what others have to say as well as seeking opportunities to give of myself without fanfare. It’s like a game. WWKD?

  3. Kate,

    I am still dumbfounded to create a pet name for you which encompasses your innumerable assets and endearments… and I will never forget your silly nickname for me or your smiling face and infectiously optimistic attitude. It has been a blessing to get to know you. All I can say is, keep doing what your doing, you are awesome, I wish you all the best. Always remember wherever you are, this bubble is your community, so keep us updated on the latest exploits of Super Kate! KIT


  4. Tami says:

    We miss you tremendously already. Thanks for all of your help from both you and Bart. For jumping in with Abundance events and Mardi Gras, for teaching those kids about biodiesel and solar energy, for hitting them in the nose with tennis balls, for teaching me to trot and post, for taking me on a celebrity grease run and I’d say you were a Queen on that board. You are still a part of our bubble.

  5. ann estill says:

    Oh! But we want to know where Kate is going and why, eh? AAE

  6. Caleb Daniels says:


    You rocked it.

    Thank you for your hard work and dedication.

    keep flauntin’ that first jar O’ biodiesel!

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