Articles & Insights

Terra Alpha Voices | Julie Broaddus

Photo and editing by KK Ottesen.

As we celebrate Earth Day, we are honored to share our conversation with Julie Broaddus, owner and operator of the independent, environmentally-focused Old Bust Head Brewery in Vint Hill, Virginia. Julie reflects on the legacy of her daughter, Finley Broaddus, whose commitment to help the planet even as she battled a rare and ultimately lethal cancer during her senior year of high school challenged and inspired those around her, including Terra Alpha’s co-founder Tim Dunn, to take meaningful action to save the planet.

*Tim Dunn is a close friend of the Broaddus family and serves on the board of Finley’s Green Leap Forward.


Tim has said that your daughter, Finley, was an inspiration to him in starting Terra Alpha nearly ten years ago. This year, of course, marks the 10th anniversary of her passing, and this Earth Day marks the 10th anniversary of her fund’s first grants.

Finley was kind of a force of nature. She was just a jubilant person who, at the same time, had this incredibly serious concern about climate change. She was committed to doing everything that she personally could. So, no plastic straws, unplug your computer, every possible thing. She was just a beautiful and uplifting person to help guide you towards doing the right stuff.

Her senior year of high school, she had gotten accepted early decision to William & Mary to study environmental policy. And then it was Christmas Eve, and we had to take her to the hospital. They sent us straight to Johns Hopkins and she got admitted there. They thought it was pre-cancerous cells in her liver, but very soon we found out it was cancerous. And we were waiting for a liver transplant. So Finley and I moved into Johns Hopkins, and we lived there together for five beautiful months.

She taught every nurse on the floor to turn out the lights when they left her room, always trying to change people to get them to do any little thing that they could. All the nurses knew not to bring multiple plastic cups for her pills. And she said to tell people, “Don’t give me stuffed animals because I don’t need more stuff, and don’t send flowers because they’re grown in South America.” Just tell people to plant a tree. So we had people planting trees and sending her photos. Then her aunt said, “People want to do more, so you should start a fund.” So in February we started this fund, Finley’s Green Leap Forward, and then rather than only plant trees, people were able to donate. Secretly her aunt was working on trying to raise $18,000 by her 18th birthday, which was just a few weeks away. But on her 18th birthday, they had raised $67,000 from over 400 people. She just touched so many people.

What was her reaction?

Oh, she was thrilled. It meant a lot to her. And on Earth Day, she made the first two grants herself, two $5,000 grants. She chose the Cacapon Institute in West Virginia; they plant trees along waterways and have turned out to be an excellent organization. And The Green Belt Movement, started by Wangari Maathai, a Nobel Peace Prize winner from Kenya who got women planting trees so that they could have firewood, a job and income, and keep the banks from getting silted in and ruined. When she chose Wangari Maathai organization, we went onto the website and they had a video of Wangari Maathai telling the story of the hummingbird in her lovely African accent. The story is that there’s a forest fire and all the animals, the elephants and everybody, they’re screaming and running out of the forest, and standing out by this lake. And then there’s this little hummingbird who flies out of the forest, fills its beak with water from the lake, flies back, opens its beak, flies back, fills its beak, goes back. And they’re all like, “What are you doing? You’re not going to put out the fire.” And the hummingbird says, “Well, I’m doing what I can.” And that was so Finley.

Her fund has continued to grow. This year, since her first two grants, we’ve donated a half a million dollars to environmental organizations, which, for one lighthearted, flitty young person, is pretty amazing.

How did she come to focus on nature and the planet in the first place?

I think she had a love of nature, and [her dad] Ike deserves a lot of credit for the action part. Ike’s family was a family of, I call them “precocious environmentalists.” I remember when I first went to his house for Christmas – and this was in the 80s – his sister was wrapping packages in newspaper and not using tape, because tape was bad for the environment. So he came from a family that was very conscious of conservation and what is good and not good for the planet. And I came from a family where we traveled to very remote places where we were immersed in the rawest kind of nature. For me, it’s an emotional thing. I just have this feeling of love for the planet, for the ocean, for the critters, for the trees. I just get so much joy from them. And the thought of harm coming to them is heartbreaking and it makes you want to protect it. I think both those things came together in Finley.

Can you talk about some of the environmentally conscious things you are doing at the brewery?

We do some big stuff definitely motivated by “Finley would want us to do this.” But Finley also thought about every single little thing. And so we try and do every little thing that we can think of to make a difference no matter how small or how big.

Our first big thing was reusing an old building. So, not pouring new concrete, not buying all the new materials. Not trashing the other one and starting fresh. The next thing we did was we put geothermal wells in our parking lot. So 18, 500-foot-deep geothermal wells to geothermally heat and cool our building. The smartest way that you can conserve energy is using geothermal because it makes heating and cooling much more efficient.

And then after Finley passed away, Ike and I said, “We’re going to set aside a certain amount on Finley’s behalf that we’re going to put it towards something great for the environment.” And the solar panels were the first thing that we did. And we turned it on on her birthday. Of course, as a brewery you realize you’re using a lot of energy. But the solar covers 40% of the electricity we use to brew our beer. That was a big investment, and definitely a good return on investment.

Then the next big thing we did was something we absolutely would not have done if it weren’t for Finley, because when we looked at the investment, we thought: This is probably going to be about break-even, maybe. But it was directly tied with her biggest concern, which was carbon dioxide (CO₂) in the atmosphere. Neither Ike nor I were brewers when we started, but I remember walking through the production area and seeing that all the tanks have hoses that come out of them that go into buckets of water that are bubbling stuff. And I realized that our yeast in taking sugar and breaking it down into alcohol was bubbling a ton of CO₂ right into the atmosphere. And I was like, “Oh man. Finley would not like that.”

Well, our brewmaster at the time went to a seminar where they talked about this new technology to capture your CO₂. The big guys, the big brewers – Miller, Coors – had these units, because on their scale it was a no-brainer to recapture CO₂. But on the smaller scale, they just didn’t have units for breweries of our size. But this new company called Earthly Labs was just starting to make these units where you could recapture your CO₂ on our scale and convert it. The other thing is that it’s all-natural CO₂, which is not the same as buying commercial CO₂, which is not food-grade and has some impurities. You can actually taste the difference between that and an all-natural CO₂. 

So you have your own loop.

We have our own loop. We create it and use it. And we put it on our packaging: “solar-powered brewery” and “all-natural CO₂.” I think we spent $90,000 on this unit. We were definitely on the bleeding edge – we spent a handful of months working with the company to work out some of the kinks at the beginning. And I’ve done quite a few talks on it to different brewery organizations to try and encourage other people to do it.

I love that term, the “bleeding edge.”

Somebody has to jump in. And I think when you lose a child, it’s like everything else is in a totally different perspective. Life is completely different than it was, and so doing things just to better the world, the planet, just totally makes sense.

Sometimes it’s just saying, “No, no, no, let’s think how to do that better.” So some of the small things that we do, we talk to our food trucks, and if they have styrofoam containers, we bring them reusable plastic baskets of ours with paper liners. We recycle our grain bags. We recycle our stretch wrap. We have a native plants garden. When we learned that the county was not recycling bottles anymore, we moved to cans.

What kind of advice do you give to other brewers, or other people generally, who are interested in trying to implement these more sustainable solutions?

Basically it’s just giving them the information. What did it cost? What is the return? How are we able to show it? What response do we get from people based on that? To be honest, it’s not as much of a response as I would want. We are in a very conservative county here. I think if we were somewhere else, people would be more like, “Oh, awesome. You’re an environmental brewery.” But honestly, both sides out here, they care about nature, the planet, the land. So my mission here is to show the environmental things that we do, and communicate in a positive way what it is to care for the planet in little ways and big ways. We do events to promote the environment in a non-threatening way, where everybody is comfortable. Because I feel like that’s the way we’re going to influence people: if they feel good about coming here and then feel good about what we’re doing and don’t feel that we are looking
down on them.

Thinking about the inspiration that Finley’s been for you, what message do you try to take forward?

Remembering to be uplifting and positive and to do every single little thing that I can think of. A lot of it’s just learning to do the best you can. It’s really about living, loving, enjoying life, and making the planet better at the same time. That’s been our mission. Enriching lives and living sustainably at the same time. It can’t just all be about living sustainably. Life has to be joyful.

Terra Alpha