The May Farm: Harvesting Sunlight

By Sharron May

It seems fitting to write a blog post about a solar grant project against the backdrop of spring’s lengthening days. The plants, animals, and humans on the farm are harvesting every extra minute of daylight, faces tilted toward the sun.

Our interest in solar energy was ignited by the 70’s “back to the land” movement and reading Foxfire books. Decades later it was re-ignited by the 90’s “regenerative farming” movement and reading books by Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin, and Wendell Berry. Thus, the mission for The May Farm is trustworthy food raised close to your table. We wanted to produce nutrient-dense food, processed and sold locally using minimal inputs and fossil fuels. Our ‘pilot pasture’ aims to provide a low-tech template for beginning farmers whose biggest obstacles are a shortage of land, capital and/or expertise.

The first solar infrastructure item we purchased was the unit that charges the electric fence on our 30-acre pasture. But you could say that the pasture itself was the very first investment. It’s a great big horizontal solar panel that harvests sunlight and with a little help, turns it into beef, lamb, and chicken. As the mixed herd is rotated daily in succession around the pasture they seem oblivious to the fact that they’re regenerating the land, preserving the watershed and removing atmospheric carbon. It’s all in a day’s grazing.

When the Cherry Republic grant application letter arrived, a quote from CBS Solar was still warm in our hands. We had just concluded that we could only afford a small system; one that would only generate up to 40% of the capacity we needed. When we opened the letter from Cherry Republic we couldn’t believe our eyes, and shortly thereafter, our good fortune. The grant award gave us the financial nudge we needed to invest in the larger system with the potential to supply up to 80% of the energy needed to run the farmstead. Through April’s rain, sleet, and unprecedented snow, the system was up and running without a hitch.

Cherry Republic’s willingness to invest in farms like ours empowered us to expand our solar infrastructure and stimulate our local economy by hiring a local solar manufacturer. This spring there’s another backdrop on the farm. As the days continue to lengthen, plants, animals, humans and 28 solar panels are harvesting every extra minute of daylight, faces tilted towards the sun.

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