Kohlie Frantzen and his family are climate refugees. They left their home in the New Orleans area in advance of Hurricane Katrina thinking it was for another brief evacuation. They are still here in Acadiana 11 years later. It was actually a return home as Kohlie grew up in Lafayette and his wife is from Crowley.
His family was in the oil and gas business, but he went into finance at LSU and then law school at Loyola in New Orleans. He was a prosecutor in Jefferson Parish at the time Katrina hit.
Being a climate refugee had a profound effect on Frantzen. He knows exactly what it is to lose access to the every day things you take for granted, like a home, access to food, electricity, clean water — the essentials that comprise the platform of modern life. Frantzen learned that all of these can disappear in an instant.
His current venture, Helical Holdings, is a direct result of that refugee experience, although it did not start out that way. It started with an exploration of a path to provide combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan economic security when they returned home. It started with farming.
Frantzen attended a six-week course in California that was created to teach transitioning and returning veterans how to farm. It was, in essence, an organic farming bootcamp that culminated with the development of a business plan that would be vetted by the school’s own version of a Shark Tank.
Frantzen came away from the experience enlightened. Yes, he believed anyone could be taught to farm. But, he believed there were too many variables to enable the smooth transition that the school was offering and veterans were seeking.
Drawing on his oil and gas background, Frantzen and his business partner Dylan Ratigan — former CNBC and MSNBC and an advocate for opportunities for veterans — set out to design a simplified yet highly sophisticated hydroponic organic farm that incorporates the shipping container used in delivery as part of the operation. The Helical Outposts incorporate the standardization and technology that are common in the oil patch to bring food, water and energy to people anywhere where there a few thousand square feet of ground are available.
The idea was lends itself for use in disaster areas because the Outposts are energy independent. The solar-powered farming operation, once set up, actually produces thousand of gallons of clean water as part of its output. It also produces more power than it uses. There is a satellite communications link.
There are two Outposts deployed so far. One in Lafayette at John Paul the Great Academy, the other in the mountains of Virginia. They have each weathered the climate where they are located. The site in Virginia has maintained operations through blizzards. The Lafayette site continued uninterrupted operation through the Floods of August.
Frantzen now sees the Outposts as potential assets for any community, from those in ‘food deserts‘ to high-end neighborhoods with appetites for fresh organic food.
While the Floods of August revealed that stark weaknesses still exist in our essential infrastructure and supply chains 11 years after Katrina and Rita, one thing that has fundamentally changed is the recognition of the need for communities to focus on resilience and sustainability in a state that has been experiencing more severe weather in recent years — and with more of the same predicted.
Frantzen and Helical Holdings have created a model that holds far-reaching potential for increasing the capacity of communities beyond just in times of disaster. If the Outposts can get the kind of traction Frantzen hopes for, they could also provide the basis for new manufacturing opportunities in south Louisiana using the same skills that transformed the oil and gas industry from a brute force business into one that operates on a high technology plain.
It’s the kind of skills transfer opportunity that has often been talked about but rarely realized. And, it could turn the climate change crisis that directly threatens south Louisiana into an industrial and technological opportunity that could help us transition away from oil and gas – the engine powering that threat.
Frantzen and I covered all of this in our interview that aired Sunday on KPEL. We cover some extra ground in the podcast-only segment which is included at the link at the top of the post.