By Elizabeth Murphy, Farm Programs Director & Sarah Lowry, FarmLink Program Manager
All farmers are in the business of solar energy collection, capturing sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into healthy plant matter. But the options for solar energy on the farm go well beyond photosynthesis.
Across Washington, farmers are moving closer to whole farm sustainability by using renewable resources like the sun, as well as wind, for energy needs on the farm. Not only does renewable energy on the farm promote clean environmental solutions, it also helps reduce input costs, improving operating margins and farm business profits.
Bringing attention to these solutions and showcasing several Washington farms with impressive renewable systems in place, we’ve partnered with Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (Northwest SEED) to organize a series of six renewable energy Farm Walks across Washington. These free events, open to the public, have brought together growers, community members and service providers to discuss the opportunities and logistics of farm-scale alternative energy.
The series kicked off last October with tours in Western Washington. The first Farm Walk was at Broad Leaf Farm in Everson, which utilizes an 8.6 kW solar electric system. Then we visited Tahoma Farm in Orting, a certified organic vegetable farm with a solar array atop an old livestock barn. The walks continued with a tour of the Caldwell Davis Bassetti Farm, where a wind turbine that powers the farm has become a landscape symbol, and at Badger Mountain Vineyard where 24 participants got a tour of their solar array.
The walks have proven beneficial for all types of participants, especially growers exploring renewable energy. The opportunity to see renewable implementation at work and talk with farmers and service providers are important first steps in adopting a new system. Topics included how to determine renewable feasibility on farm or ranch, calculating operating cost savings, and establishing financing, tax benefits and cost-share assistance; as well as the nuts and bolts of wind and solar terminology, system set-ups, installation logistics, meter reading and maintenance needs.
A crucial point driven home by guest speaker Sonia Hall of WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources is that renewable energy on the farm goes well beyond simple dollars and cents. Adopting solar or wind energy systems is one of the ways that farmers and ranchers can adapt their practices to mitigate climate change impacts and contribute to regional, as well as farm-scale, sustainability.
The final Farm Walk in this renewable energy series was on October 5, a tour of the solar installation at Rents Due Ranch in Stanwood with Fire Mountain Solar and Snohomish Conservation District, sponsored by the Washington State Department of Commerce. Stay tuned for a summary about that and a schedule of Farm Walks in 2017!