In the rich farmland valley of Pawlet, there is a classic 1850’s Vermont farmhouse with Greek Revival bones, complete with a silo and a collection of outbuildings-quintessential Vermont to its core. Alongside ‘the old chicken barn’-something new has sprouted…..solar panels. The farm has a long history, which got us wondering at Grassroots Solar about the why’s of adding solar to this farm scene, and so I sat down for coffee with the owner, Barb Moore, at Dorset Rising café one winter morning to find out what inspired the change.
The story begins in the Vermont of the 1940’s. Barb’s father returned from World War II and took advantage of a training program for veterans in agriculture at Green Mountain College. He started out as a dairy farmer but then converted the longest barn on the Pawlet property to egg production and sold fresh eggs to the community until 1988. After he passed, the farm lay idle for a while. Barb “always had a dream to transition the fields over to organic farming but there were several failed attempts at it over the years.” Nothing seemed to fit until a young couple, Tim and Brooke, approached Barb to use the land for growing organic sweet potatoes. Now, in its fourth year, Laughing Child Farm has become the largest organic sweet potato grower in Vermont!
I asked Barb what made her consider adding solar to the farm. Very quickly she replied, “I had trust in the solar provider.” Well, since we can take a compliment, with a shade of humility, we accepted that reason. You see, Bill and I go way back with this client – I decorated Barb’s farmhouse and Bill made custom furniture for her in our previous careers. So, there was a level of trust that had deep roots.
I wondered what her forefathers and mothers would have thought about solar panels on their farm and she said “They would have been intrigued by them and they were always looking for what was new and helpful to the production of the farm.” That makes sense. These were practical folks after all. Anything that saved them money and made them more resilient would have gone over well.
Barb sees parallels between solar and the local food movement. “Both keep local control and build community and I see young people embracing sustainability in all ways.” She has deep ties to the local food movement as the owner of The Good Table, a catering business that using local and organic food, so she thinks about this often.
The solar panels add a contemporary element to the farmscape and I wondered what Barb thought of the aesthetics of the 2 pole mounted arrays. Pushing back a bit in her chair, she said, “I am surprised at the small footprint and how they don’t seem obtrusive, but blend nicely with the outbuilding and fields.” I mentioned to Barb that sometimes people add a layer to the solar array by planting a pollinator garden around the poles. Pollinator gardens consist of flowering plants that sustain bees and insect pollinators with food and shelter. Well, that got us thinking and by the last sip of coffee we were already scheming to put together a Pollinator Workshop for our local environmental group, Transition Town Manchester, to teach ourselves and our community how to go about creating something beautiful and useful for our ever evolving Vermont landscape.
Stay tuned for the upcoming workshop date this spring.