GREAT BARRINGTON — Guido's Fresh Marketplace is trying a new approach to maintaining the difficult-to-mow grass under its solar array — and all it's costing it is water and the occasional apple.
This year, Guido's brought in 10 soay (pronounced soy-ya) sheep to live in the 2-acre, 385-kilowatt solar panel field adjacent to the market. The array was installed in 2016 and generates 100 percent of the store's electric power. The grazing animals have been munching on grass and hanging out under the panels for shelter from the sun and rain.
Aside from the regular watering, the only other time the sheep need attention is when the littlest one escapes, said Luke Masiero, the store's front end manager.
"It's gone very well," Masiero said. "There's one rogue sheep that constantly escapes, but doesn't go far. He just hangs around his flock and finds his way back in."
Whenever the little guy gets out, Jon Piasecki comes to wrangle him back into the pen. Piasecki is the proprietor of Golden Bough, a local landscape architecture business and the owner of 20 soay, a rare breed of sheep that come from a single island in Scotland.
In the United Kingdom, the small sheep are prized for their tasty meat. Piasecki said he might have the largest soay herd in North America.
"It's a win-win situation," Piasecki said. "They're generating green energy and they're able, in a green way, to maintain the grass underneath. They already had the fence ... so it works out perfectly for the sheep. The hard part is catching them."
Piasecki has had the sheep for years, but only recently perfected how to get an escaped sheep back behind a fence. Unlike most sheep, soay don't flock. Chasing them is futile. They have to be trapped in a cage baited with food.
"There's always a couple that give us a hard time," he said.
Guido's isn't the first solar array to which Piasecki has lent his sheep. Blue Q, a designer and manufacturer of "joy-bringing products" in Pittsfield, has been inviting the sheep to nibble on its lawn for five years.
Guido's Visual Communications Manager Dawn Masiero, who is friendly with the people at Blue Q, noticed Piasecki's sheep and got in touch to get some sheep at the grocer, Luke Masiero said.
The sheep won't be at Guido's for too much longer — the winter weather is coming and the grass will cease to grow. But Luke Masiero said the sheep will likely be back again next year.
"If we decide to do it again, they'll come back in the spring and stay until mid-fall," he said.
The sheep might like that, too. After all, working at Guido's has its benefits.
"The sheep love apples a lot," Masiero said. "We're not supposed to spoil them; we're supposed to stick to their diet of grass. But every once in a while, they get a treat."
Kristin Palpini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @kristinpalpini on Twitter, 413-629-4621.