Stout Oak Farm adds solar panels, now harvests sunshine as well
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Not far from Route 101 and a quickly expanding commercial backdrop, the landscape evolves to a more rural scene. The sunny, open hills that slope upwards from Middle Road and marked by an antique white dairy barn, are part of 58 acres of historic Brentwood, NH farmland that Kate and Jeff Donald purchased 5 years ago. Both Kate and Jeff are NH natives. Kate, who had farmed in Brentwood for five years (and organically for 15), found the property in partnership with the Southeast Land Trust of NH, through which they were able to both purchase and protect the land by placing it under a conservation easement. With a long history as a dairy farm, the property had provided home and occupation for the Lyford family for nine generations. For the Donalds, it was an opportunity to launch their own certified organic vegetable farm.
Stout Oak Farm specializes in vegetables, herbs and micro greens, as well as seedlings for home vegetable gardeners. They grow 5 acres of organic produce for sale via their Farm Store, CSA, and farmers’ markets, and also deliver to restaurants, stores, and hospitals through Three River Farmers Alliance, a local food distribution business they co-own with Heron Pond and Meadow’s Mirth Farms. Since moving to the farm in 2012, growth and improvements have been plentiful. They’ve converted several acres of hay pasture for vegetable farming, renovated the dairy barn to create space for their Farm Store, put up hoop houses, drilled a well, and planted a small orchard. Now, Kate and Jeff are thrilled to execute a new development in Stout Oak Farm’s history – joining the growing renewable energy transition with the installation of a solar electric array, and shrinking their dependence on fossil fuels to run their farm.
Kate says, “We were 100% committed to the idea of solar, before we ever bought our own farm. Renewable energy fits in perfectly with our values as organic farmers. The electricity demands of our farm have increased as our business has grown over the past five years. We were very motivated to adopt solar to meet the farm’s energy needs, while also looking for ways to conserve energy consumption for the future.”
To make the solar transition, Stout Oak contracted with ReVision Energy, whose first introduction to the farm was through participating in a CSA. For the past two years, Brentwood employees have enjoyed fresh organic produce from the nearby farm. They’re looking forward to next summer now that the veggies will be farmed with solar power! ReVision installed Stout Oak Farm’s 12.6 kW solar array in January 2017. The panels are estimated to produce 15,100 kWhs of electricity each year, clean energy that will go a long way in powering operations necessities like irrigation, refrigeration and lighting.
The Donalds were also able to take advantage of generous incentives through the USDA’s REAP Program to finance the array. The REAP Grant, which provides up to 25% of a renewable energy project’s cost for agricultural producers and small rural businesses, makes a real difference in project economics and Jeff notes that these funds were absolutely instrumental in making the installation a reality. “Cash flow is the be-all, end-all for most farmers,” he says. “The extra money [from the grant] changes what our loan and monthly payments would look like and makes solar possible for us.” He notes that ReVision helped them to file for the grant, making what could be a time intensive process a non-issue.
The benefits of the solar array will span several areas, including electricity savings, environmental benefit and carbon offset (13,862 pounds of carbon pollution each year) and through increasing positive image for the farm. Jeff says that Stout Oak’s customers are very happy to see the local farm invest in solar and that they received a lot of positive feedback about the endeavor after posting photos of the installation on Facebook. Kate too says, “When one of the younger Lyfords recently heard about our new solar panels, he commented, ‘My grandfather would approve. He was an innovator.’” All proof that solar will not only be in keeping with the farm’s legacy, but also an investment for the future.