^pBy LEIGH PROM
There’s a new look to the landscape on Pleasant Hill Road in Ferrum. Soon there will be a new look to the power bill of Andrew Bowman’s Oliver Run Dairy.
Paradise Energy Solutions recently completed installing 232 solar panels in four arrays on the Ferrum farm. Sam Hopkins, Paradise’s project manager, said that in less than two weeks Appalachian Power will “flip the switch,” officially powering the farm by solar.
With the farm’s power bill being thousands and thousands of dollars each year, Hopkins said, “Everyone’s excited to see the [power] meters spin backwards.”
Bowman became acquainted with Paradise Energy Solutions about two years ago when he, one of his sons and the farm’s herdsman, Jose Flores, were invited to attend an event at Homestead Creamery that showcased its operation and included vendor tables as well.
Paradise’s timeline for an agricultural solar project has six parts: solar evaluation, a detailed quote, a signed contract, paperwork and permits, construction and a final flip-the-switch party. Hopkins said a project usually has a turnaround time of about 10 weeks.
The benefits of solar energy for the farm are to cut overhead, create sustainability, generate tax benefits and protect from rising costs.
While going solar is “not cheap up front,” a lot of the cost can be made back in the first year due to tax credits, Hopkins said.
Besides the financial aspect of using solar energy, there are environmental impacts, too.
“I don’t think there’s a single farmer upset about the positive impact it has upon the environment,” Hopkins said, adding that he feels farmers have an understanding of how to treat the land.
The land of the Bowman farm has been in Edward Goode’s family since his grandparents began dairy farming in 1913. Goode’s parents bought the farm during the Great Depression, and Goode, 92, took it over in the 1970s after buying out his siblings’ shares.
Over the years Goode has invested in purchasing neighboring parcels of land. By making the long-term investment in solar energy, Goode said it will power the entire farm.
In addition to farming, Goode was a former educator, including having served as principal of Ferrum Elementary School, and has been a member of the Ferrum Lions Club for more than 70 years.
For more than 20 years, Bowman has leased the land from Goode for his farm, which has transitioned into an organic dairy.
Oliver Run Dairy is part of Organic Valley, which has about 2,000 farms in its cooperative, making it the largest organic coop in the country. Gerry Cohn is Southeast Region Pool Manager for Organic Valley and assists Bowman with his farm.
For the transition, it took Bowman three years for the land, and one year for the animals, to achieve organic certification for the farm. Cohn said he credited Bowman with being “willing to try new things and do things differently.”
Cynthia Martel is an extension agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources who works with dairy farmers in the area. She said the only constant for farmers is change.
“They’re going to have to make changes,” she said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. They need to become better managers of everything on their farm.”