LANESBOROUGH — Baby chicks and green leafy vegetables are thriving indoors at two local farms — thanks to the power of the sun.
Square Roots Farm on Old Cheshire Road and Red Shirt Farm off Route 7 flipped the switch last winter on solar arrays fully funded by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. The alternative energy projects power all agricultural-related buildings, the residences excluded. Both farms operate as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where customers buy shares of the harvest and pick up their bounty at the farm.
Since going online three months ago, Red Shirt Farm co-owners Jim and Annie Schultz say their roof-mounted solar panels on the main barn generated more than 1,600 kilowatts of electricity, which helped power the barn, four incubator/hatchers and several greenhouses. One of those greenhouses is filled with rows of arugula, spinach and other fresh produce.
Going green also is earning green for the farm, Jim Schultz said.
"We have saved about 70 percent on our farm energy bills during one of our peak usage periods," he said, "and at a time when the panels aren't producing at the maximum."
Last November, the Schultzes received a $26,000 grant from the state's Agricultural Energy Grant Program, one of 38 statewide totaling $908,000.
The financial incentive is designed to improve energy efficiency in the commonwealth's agricultural industry. State agricultural officials expect the latest grant recipients to save more than $200,000 annually and reduce greenhouse gas emissions greater than 660 tons each year.
The farm aid program, established in 2009, has funded 240 renewable energy projects to the tune of $3.8 million.
Square Roots Farm erected a ground-mounted solar array using a $20,000 award from the state program. The panels produce electricity that eventually power the farm's chicken processing facility, Quonset hut and chicken brooder, which kept baby chicks toasty warm during the chill of early spring.
In the first full month of operation, the farm in March cut its electric bill in half compared with March 2017, according co-owners Michael Gallagher and his wife, Ashley Amsden.
"It's the lowest we've ever seen [our bill], and it should be negative by the summer solstice," Gallagher noted.
Ultimately, Gov. Charlie Baker sees that reduced agricultural energy expenses can benefit consumers.
"The ensured savings from clean energy projects can easily be reinvested into farms across the commonwealth and eventually lead to better products for consumers," he said in prepared remarks.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 413-496-6233