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Energy Harvest

Out With the Old, In With Renewable

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The Renewable Hudson Valley

Most people picture towering turbines, plains of solar panels, and revolving water mills when they think of renewable energy, but Khosla says it can be more subtle: tracing the links in a chain of events.

The farmer's mentality revolves around the world of potential and active energy, waiting for crops to blossom, seasons to change, and energy to transfer from one form to the next. Mark Stonehill of Full Circus Farm describes their system as follows: "We use the sun to grow grass, use the grass as fuel for our draft horses, and leave our tractor sitting in the barn."

He and his co-owner/partner, Miriam, use two draft horses to plow, cultivate, and harrow their crops. On warmer days, the horses are hooked up to a wagon to move things around the farm; in the winter, they drag a sled.

In Gardiner, Jay Armour of Four Winds Farm uses strategic planting, straw insulation, and underground root cellars combined with a 13-killowatt solar grid system in consideration of both the land and the owners' wallets. "First off, we don't plow or till our soil, which means reduced tractor use, which means reduced fuel consumption and an ability to grow more crops in a concentrated space," Armour explains. "By not plowing our land, we have seen an increase of organic matter. This increases the soil's ability to stay moist longer, reducing irrigation needs. Moving water requires energy, and less water moved means less energy."

Of the 24-acre farm, only four acres are used to grow vegetables. The other 20 acres are used to raise beef and, subsequently, to generate fertilizer to heat the greenhouse. On the cooler, cloudy days that lack enough sunlight to steam up the fertilizer, they use a small wood-burning stove. They also limit their distribution to a 50-mile radius to reduce transportation costs.

While Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook doesn't have a wind turbine or solar array, they do have a popular New York City-based catering company with large volumes of recycled cooking oil. "It was kind of a no-brainer. We had this oil and we have these greenhouses, so why not?" Bob Walker, Katchkie's farm manager, says. Every winter, Walker makes the drive down to New York City and returns with four or five 55-gallon drums full of liquid gold. The oil produces enough energy using a radiant heat system to save about $150 to $2,000 per greenhouse annually on heating costs. With three greenhouses and a 900-square-foot workshop, that's more than pocket change. Walker says they're considering installing solar panels to further cut costs.

Like Full Circus, Great Song Farm also employs draft horses, and is looking into installing geothermal heating systems and solar panels in the future. The manager of the Red Hook farm, Anthony Mecca, was always interested in finding a tractor alternative, especially after working on other tractor-powered farms. "The main part of it is connection to the soil," he explains, comparing the feel of his bare feet in the soil following the horses between the rows of vegetables to the loud, steady thrum of boiling exhaust. "That's one of the main reasons that we do it. The other is definitely the energy conservation part of it. We don't have to use fossil fuels."

The Future of Farming

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said that, every three weeks, the United States brings as much solar power online as it did in all of 2008—that we're officially number one in wind power. He emphasized the dangers of global warming and its immediate risks to national security. "That's why, over the past six years, we've done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it," he said. "The United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions."

Three months later, at the creamery in Goshen, 50 business leaders and farmers applauded as Glustoff made the closing remarks, thanking Energize NY, their partners, and his wife. Like the nationwide agricultural industry, this presentation began and ended with the farmers.

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