Presented here are energy related activities brought into play at BSG-Maple & Marine over 12 years. We approach energy projects from a cost/waste perspective that conservation practices like insulation, energy reduction, and other efficiency projects offer faster return on investments than energy generation. Many of these activities may be ones you already do. Others may stimulate you to consider new options. You will likely know about possibilities we have not considered. We hope you will forward your thoughts.
Our sight-line is towards reduced carbon emissions, increased carbon storage where possible and long-term, bioculturally diverse, carbon neutral cycling: Meaning, putting only as much carbon into the air as an allocation of plants can pull out as they form biodiversity/biomass. (Please see the Carbon Farming page for more discussion and resources integrating energy conservation & production with carbon farming's interest in the challenges of carbon sustainable biocultural diversity.)
At this point in time most of us engage in significant carbon-positive practices which are crashing conditions for high global biodiversity, cultural diversity, and high biomass storage of carbon. A fast growing red-list catalogs species in danger of extinction ( The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species ) . At BSG-Farm, one of our greatest carbon-positive behavior is a love of travel-- adventure learning for the family. We also continue to consume commodity-scale foods out of habit, convenience or because they appear lower in cost in the moment. Yet, we know that the Total Accounting Costs of "cheap food" are shown to be exceedingly high. As we consume these foods, biocultural diversity contracts. We humans are complicated and often contradictory, with much more to learn and achieve. We are most interested to learn of your thoughts and experiences on these matters.
Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), The Massachusetts Farm Energy Program in association with the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Massachusetts Agricultural Environmental Enhancement Program (AEEP).
In addition, new Massachusetts legislation (2009) also made this project possible. These solar panels "net meter" electricity into the electric grid which funtions as an offset, or credit, for what Berkshire Sweet Gold Maple Farm uses harvesting, producing & marketing syrups. BSG-Maple & Carbon Farm is now classed as a "co-generator" by our utility. The new legislation is part of the Green Communities Act and requires utility companies to reimburse all net metering into the grid at a retail rate. The system uses Massachusetts made Schott panels and is producing 80% or better of the farm's average annual electricity usage. This installation is compatible with our shift to electric processing with Reverse Osmosis along with supporting all the other farm equipment that uses electricity including sap pumps, vacuum pumps, compressors, syrup pumps, syrup and glass heaters, space heaters, ultraviolet lights, blower motors, heat tapes, and computers.
Solar Powered Syrups
Maple sap collected from our trees tastes like cold, fresh and sweet water. To reach the rich density of your maple syrup the sap must be concentrated at ratios of 30 gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup at the beginning of the harvest and up to 100 to 1 by the end of the harvest. Energy is required to accomplish this process.
The heating oil we buy for our evaporator is a bio-diesel blend. We do not burn wood to produce maple syrup for several conservation reasons. For example, the vast quantity of wood we would have to use for the harvest would strip too much material out of our forest and damage its plant/animal bio-diversity. Forests properly managed can be carbon neutral or even a carbon sink (carbon negative) as they pull CO2 from the air. Poorly handled, a forest can become a net carbon emitter (carbon positive) through excessive decay and/or over-harvesting. It is a current Forest Guild perspective that forests left in a "wilding" state of self thinning as they develop towards maturity advances carbon negative sequestration best over the long haul.
Farm to Table
Our farm-to-table relationships with you, the customer, form an often overlooked, vital conservation practice. Farm Direct retail markets do eliminate the substantial energy consumption associated with wholesale distribution, transport, storage and marketing. Yet most importantly, your informed interest in family-scale farming forms the bedrock of a culture which conserves and sustains vital relationships between agricultural and urban lifestyles. Without your knowledge of the agriculture our farm has no market for carefully handled syrups. And if customers, or ourselves, do not know how a particular agriculture works we are only able to label shop. If you have met our family at a public market you may have heard us voice Wendell Berry's observation that "eating is an agricultural act." BSG-Farm's bottle buyback program continues to grow significantly, offering further cost benefits to customers and to the farm through reuse, eliminating energy consumed during glass recycling processes.
Across the Farm
The post & beam farmhouse was constructed by with wood & stone harvested from the property and locally. It has some capacity for passive solar heating. The exterior surfaces are highly insulated with recycled chopped cellulose (newsprint) which, during construction, was applied wet, filling all voids, like paper mache.
Energy conservation is an activity in which everyone can participate. A next step can be to pursue alternatives for energy generation. Energy generation should logically begin with technologies that are mature, meaning that they are reliable and pay back investments within a reasonable timeframe, like heating your home with carbon neutral fuel such as wood.
In 2007 we installed a solar hot-water system on our farmhouse and then in 2008 we installed another at Leighton & Martha McCutchen's home on the farm property. With the help of State and Federal tax credits solar hot-water recovers its costs quickly, within 2 to 4 years. The technology has been proven over decades. Experts consider solar hot-water the hands-down best bang-for-your-buck after conservation work. We wash our syrup bottles and other equipment, clothes, dishes and ourselves with hot water, (lots of it!) that comes directly from the sun!
Solar Photo-Voltaic: In 2008 BSG-Farm was awarded three state and federal grants to install a solar photo-voltaic system at the farm. In March of 2009, a 9.24kw generating system was installed on BSG's Circ.1830's red-barn roof by Berkshire Photovoltaic Services owned by Chris Killfoyle. PV systems are also technologically mature, reliable systems. However, they are not yet financially mature, a situation which is improving as world markets substantially scale-up production (Prices tumbled a lot last year!). Local and federal governments worldwide are boosting this process through investments in targeted regions and businesses. BSG-Farm has been able to participate in these political and financial commitments with receipt of grants from the;
Berkshire Sweet Gold Maple & Marine
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