Creating a Sustainable Farm: One Family’s Story

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Check out this awesome story of how one family dedicated themselves to building a more sustainable farming model – including raising their own food, producing their own electricity, and more!

When it comes to living more sustainably, there isn’t one final answer. Instead, there are lots of little things you can do to make your impact on the planet more positive. This is a good thing for those of us starting out on the path to a sustainable lifestyle. We can start with baby steps!

This family did just that. Starting with a vegetable garden to help reduce grocery bills, and progressing to a more natural and healthy method of raising animals, and then on to solar power conversion and more, the Welch family has come a long way towards a more sustainable future. (You won’t believe how little they spend on gasoline!)

Check out the article below for their story:

When my wife and I were in our early 20s, cash-strapped with our first baby in diapers, someone told me that the secret to financial security was to make a budget and live by it. So I made a budget.

My budget showed that we would have $11 per month in disposable income, if no one went to the doctor and neither of our decrepit cars ever needed repair. As if. It didn’t present a path to financial security. It did, however, demonstrate the value of a vegetable garden.

By starting to grow most of our own food, we saved a few hundred dollars — and that summer, a few hundred dollars made a lot of difference. More importantly, our family established a collective vision, gestated in that garden, of efficient self-reliance.
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Positivity Puzzle

These days, we’re no longer so focused on stretching grocery money. Instead, we’re fascinated by the idea that we can produce food efficiently — for us and a bunch of other people — and that our lifestyle can have a positive net impact on the global environment.
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We now live on 50 acres of tallgrass prairie in eastern Kansas. We raise sheep, cattle, goats and chickens for meat. With every passing year, our managed grazing makes the land more fertile. With photovoltaics (PV) installed on our barn roof, we generate more electricity than we consume. We do most of our driving in an electric car, also powered by our home’s solar system. A solar-thermal hot-water system provides plenty of hot showers. Our vegetable garden — the seed that started it all — remains.
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Rather than measuring our farm’s efficiency economically, we concentrate on solving the puzzle of figuring out how our home, farm and lifestyle can have the most positive net impact on the planet. How can we, and our neighbors, engage in a system that’s mindful of the land and sustainable for future generations?

Carbon In, Carbon Out: The Value of a Prairie’s Carbon Sequestration

Unsustainable farming practices worldwide contribute to increased levels of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases in the air, which get trapped at the Earth’s surface and promote climate change. Concern about the carbon in our atmosphere has led us to focus new attention on how we farm and live.
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…Grazing animals on perennial pasture actually improves soil health and sequesters carbon in the soil. In fact, a lot of scientists think a healthy prairie may be as, or even more, effective at removing carbon from the atmosphere as the same acreage of rain forest.
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…Farmers can optimize this solar-powered, soil-building, carbon-sequestering process by creating diverse pastures with plants regionally adapted to thrive in each growing season. Meat, dairy and eggs produced via this pastured system are also much more nutritious than products from animals fed grain in confinement operations.
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Adding Renewable Energy: Photovoltaic Solar Panels and Solar Thermal Hot Water System

Nearly 70 percent of the electricity residents in the United States consume comes from fossil fuels, which contribute to growing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that are throwing our climate out of balance. Equally vexing, from my family’s perspective, is that we can’t control the effects that the extraction and use of fossil fuels have on the world…. When we fill our tanks with fossil fuels, we are conscious that we’re not doing good in the world.

We’ve made two investments that have dramatically reduced our reliance on fossil fuels. The first and most important was installing 26 PV solar panels on the roof of our barn. In summer, they produce about twice the electricity we consume, pushing the surplus out onto the grid for others to use. In winter, they produce about half the energy we consume, and we buy the rest from our local utility. Over the course of a year, we’re just about even, producing a little more electricity than we consume.
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Now, our lights, refrigerators, freezers, air conditioner, computers, phones and just about everything else that consumes energy in our home run on power we generate using just the sun, some silicon and a few thousand feet of wire to move the energy around.

To heat our water, we have a separate solar-thermal hot-water system that heats food-grade glycerin in solar collectors and circulates it through a heat exchanger. The pump that moves the glycerin is powered by a PV panel, so when the sun is shining, the glycerin gets to work. (I confess to taking long, guilt-free showers.)

Our Chevy Volt Electric Car

After the solar collectors, our second most important investment was our Chevy Volt electric car, which goes 30 to 40 miles on plug-in solar electricity before switching to its gasoline-powered backup engine. Most days, I don’t use any gasoline at all. It’s the best car I’ve ever owned, in every way. It’s fun to drive. It’s quick. It’s comfortable. And in my first 40,000 miles, I spent only $116 in maintenance. That’s right — 40,000 miles, $116.

After driving the Volt for three years, I’ve concluded that electric cars are just better vehicles…. Even if I buy electricity from our utility company, the cost per mile of an electric car is only about 15 percent of the cost of running a similar car on gas — and the EV pollutes less, too. What’s not to love?

Our Aspirations
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For the rest of the story, including the Welch’s future plans, visit MotherEarthNews.com.

 

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