Sun to Preserve Local Food All Winter Long at Wolf Pine Farm
Solar At Work | October 21, 2013 | Posted by Fred Greenhalgh
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Named for the “Wolf Pine” which sits in the lower field of the 50 acre farm, Wolf Pine Farm in Alfred, ME continues a heritage of local farming that goes back centuries. The owners today, Tom Harms and Amy Sprague, bought the farm in 2000 with the vision to put the “Community” into Community Supported Agriculture. Over the years, their work as well as that of dozens of farm apprentices has fed hundreds of families in Southern Maine with local, organically grown food.
As the farm has grown, so too has Maine’s organic farming movement. There are now many CSAs available throughout the Northeast, and Harms and Sprague looked towards the winter as an opportunity to build a niche for their farm and to make local food available when it usually is not. Under most CSA models, a household pays in the spring for a share of the summer harvest of a farm, then reaps the benefits throughout the growing season. Most shares end in October, when cold weather creeps in.
Not so with Wolf Pine Farm, which provides three different shares – a pantry, meat, and vegetable share which provide a monthly share throughout the winter. These winter shares focus on locally grown food that stores well, so instead of getting, say, bok choy and salad greens, CSA members will get carrots, potatoes, and onions (as well as occasional treats like breads, honey, and frozen berries). Wolf Pine’s winter model has been extremely successful, and they now source food products from over 20 farms to feed their 500 or so shareholders.
Here Comes the Sun
Preserving all this locally produced food has its challenges, however – traditional root cellars have given way to refrigerators and freezers, which all require electricity, and lots of it! Enter the opportunity of solar power.
Harms already was a believer in solar, having installed a solar hot water system in 2002 and built his own off-grid cabin in 2003. When he met up with ReVision Energy in 2012, he learned that the cost of solar panels had dropped by more than 60% since the early 2000s, and there were federal incentive programs as well as grants for farms available to help make the project possible.
“In 2002, when we looked at solar for the whole farm, it was maybe a 30 year return on investment. Today it was something like 6-7 years,” Tom says. “When we’re farming, we are looking at what we are practicing today and thinking ‘Will this still be a viable way to farm 100 years in the future?’ We think the same way about our energy choices – how do the decisions we make today affect future generations? Once you take that outlook, and combine it with the great economics of solar energy, it makes it easy to make the sustainable choice.”
When ReVision’s crew showed up in early September to install the system, Harms met us with the enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning. “I’ve been waiting over 10 years to see this happen,” he said, taking time out of farm chores to ask questions and watch the 26 panels go up in just under 2 days (and you can watch it happen in under 1 minute!).
The 6.6kw solar array will generate roughly 8,400 kWh of electricity a year – plenty to run all of those freezers, plus the farm’s electric tractor. And now, in addition to squash, onions, kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cabbages, there’s one more sustainable harvest to check on at the farm: sunshine.
Learn about Wolf Pine Farm’s CSA shares or sign up for the winter here:http://www.wolfpinefarm.com/