Every morning and every evening we see the sunrise and the sunset. We change clocks to try to best use the daylight. We comment on cloudy versus sunny days. And especially in Colorado we feel warm (even on relatively cold temperature days) when the sun is out, and chilly when it isn’t. We live by the sun.
On a farm the sun means even more – our trees are able to capture sunlight and turn it into energy and at the end of that process into fruit! A pretty amazing feat if you think about it. We spend all winter pruning the trees to maximize the amount of sun they can capture. It doesn’t really matter what tree training system we use, if it makes sense from a sun interception standpoint, it will be a good system. In many ways our farm is ultimately run and powered by the sun. Except for the part of the farm powered by electricity.
Even with all these acres of trees harvesting sun and turning it into fruit, we still need electricity to run coolers and packing lines, lights and fans, apple sauce machines and computers. As an organic farm that strives to minimize off-farm inputs and to maximize the things that our farm system can generate, it bothers us that we keep buying electricity from off-farm sources. We have roof areas that could be harvesting sunlight, but aren’t. Yet, just as it costs money for trees, it costs money to utilize that roof area to generate electricity. Each year there have been other priorities – trucks, sheds, tractors, trees, wind machines, and irrigation piping to name a few. There are always things that need monetary input and the rooftops kept getting pushed down the list, along with that vacation to Fiji.
Well, this year we are finally using some of those rooftops. A crew has been installing photovoltaic panels on top of our packing shed and, just like our trees, they will soon be harvesting sun to power our farm. We aren’t able to afford enough to power the whole farm yet, but this is a start. These panels will generate about a third of the power our coolers and machines consume – a step in the right direction. They feed directly into our farm power system so in times of the year where our power needs are low, they might generate more power than we need and the electric meter will run backwards. In the fall when our power needs are high, they will reduce the amount of power we buy from the electric company.
It feels good to finally be closing another circle in what we believe it means to be sustainable and organic farmers. It isn’t just about growing fruit, but also how we grow that fruit and how we take care of our farm and the environment around us. In our minds generating our own electricity is one step toward true sustainability, just as is growing cover crops for fertility, encouraging beneficial insects for pest control, or using water efficient irrigation methods. So, now we have another reason to like these warm Colorado sunny days. The trees will be storing up energy to grow fruit and our electric bill will be lower. That vacation to Fiji? Well, it got bumped down the list again…