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Renewable Energy Field Days Draw Statewide Crowd

The four field days hosted over 90 attendees total! I was able to attend 2 of the 4 field days that I helped to organize: Warren’s off-the-grid systems on August 5 and Bondi’s solar livestock watering on August 6. I enjoyed meeting the hosts and learning about the systems myself, but the best part was watching the attendees get to know each other and exchange ideas and information.

Sam Warren of On Warren Pond Farm in Trumansburg has been homesteading since the early 1990s. He’s installed his energy systems over fifteen years. The waterwheel was a curiosity for most people; they saw more practical application in the solar and wind technologies. However, the waterwheel runs many of Sam’s tools (e.g., a drill press) directly and simultaneously, which means that there’s no need to store electricity for later use. This field day hosted the largest group: we counted 36 people in attendance!

Sam Warren's homemade waterwheel

Sam Warren's homemade waterwheel

Bob and Mary Lou Bondi are just getting started with a small beef operation in a historic barn in Pultaney, NY. 19 people turned out to learn about Bob’s solar pump system for livestock watering, which was installed with grant assistance from the Finger Lakes Resource Conservation and Development Council.

Bob Bondi explains his solar water pump

Bob Bondi explains his solar water pump

Each farmer is exploring several different technologies to find what combination works best. The attendees were a diverse group; everyone was attentive and curious and they learned as much from each other as they did from the hosts. “Green” might be the buzzword of the day, but passion for renewable energy is present in such a varied population that I will be surprised if interest declines anytime soon.

It was truly a rewarding experience to see so many people show up partly because of my efforts. See more at my blog.

Organic Dairy Videos

I haven’t meant to be absent from the blog for so long, but I’ll take it as a good sign that I’ve been too busy at work to update here. Let’s take it back to the end of July…

The Organic Dairy Initiative and NOFA-NY co-hosted an “Organic Dairy Farming and Raw Milk Marketing!” field day on July 23. It drew a good-sized crowd, including Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton; Professor Gary Fick gave a talk during lunch. I had a chance to experiment with the office’s new Flip video camera and produced a grand total of 14 video clips of the day’s discussions and speakers. Check out some examples at my blog!

EDIT: All 14 videos are now available on the Small Farms Program YouTube channel.

Renewable Energy Field Days!

The field days I wrote about are finally scheduled! When I posted about the process before I wasn’t sure how long it would take. It turned into one of those situations in which you work and work and work and think you’re making no progress, but one day, without warning, you find yourself with your goal in hand! Our networking efforts produced some great results: three of the field days are co-sponsored. Sincere thanks are due to Richard Gast of Franklin County Cooperative Extension, Molly Ames of Jefferson County CCE, and Dick Winnett of the Finger Lakes Resource Conservation & Development Council. Richard and Molly are members of the Small Farms Energy Work Team.

There are four field days scheduled. See the Small Farms Program website for more information.

The current challenge is publicizing the field days. Violet realized that our press list was last updated three years ago, so she’s asked me to make sure that the contacts are current and to expand the list. While working on that project, I’ve brainstormed some other ideas for getting the word out. My favorites: posting fliers at county fairs, asking farmers’ market managers to tell their vendors, and listing the field days on the Ithaca Journal events calendar. Publicity has already gone out through the newsletters of several organizations and people are starting to sign up!

Welcome to Your Small Farm

The 2009 4-H Career Explorations were held here on campus from June 30 through July 2. Violet and I were asked to lead one of the focus groups, called Exploring the Small Farm Dream. On Wednesday, we visited Dilmun Hill (Cornell’s student-run farm), Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese, and Reisinger’s Apple Country. One group of teens recorded a video of the field trip. The highlight (of course) was getting the vans stuck in the mud.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

(From two recent posts.)

I’m quickly learning that the renewable energy scene in New York is quite a muddle. Individual organizations and people are approaching the issue from every possible angle, but there isn’t much communication going on between all the different efforts. No one seems to know what the big picture is. For New York, this state of affairs means that often people are reinventing the wheel instead of improving upon previous efforts. For me, it’s difficult to find needed information.

Problem: lack of communication makes finding information difficult. Solution: network! Perhaps nobody knows the big picture, but many people know about energy initiatives in their areas. The most successful strategy I’ve tried so far was to send an email to all the county Small Farms Educators asking about farms they know of that are using renewable energy. We only need to schedule 3-4 field days, but I’m also creating a database of all the responses. I’ve gotten leads not only on small farms, but also on renewable energy technology companies and energy education/training programs. I’m sure that I won’t learn about all the renewable energy initiatives in the state, but the database will be a good start. It’ll be accessible for the Small Farms Energy Work Team to use and grow after I leave, too!

Through the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service), organic farms now have access to grant money through Organic EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program). NRCS staff and organic representatives met yesterday to develop a working relationship. As the official note-taker, I was in the ultimate fly-on-the-wall position.

This meeting was a great example of what I’d like to see happening in regards to renewable energy in New York. A gap – or should I say, an opportunity for improved communication and collaboration was identified… and people got together to take advantage of it!   …

In addition to these observations, I came away with some questions of my own. I was stunned by the amount and specificity of the information required from a farm to become certified organic and to maintain certification. Fay Benson, my Organic Dairy Initiative supervisor and a host of the NRCS meeting, assured me that the paperwork required is far above and beyond that required for conventional farms. I’m used to thinking of farmers as independent; why would an increasing number of farmers voluntarily submit to this kind of oversight? How much of the consumer food dollar goes to the organic certifiers? Perhaps it’s this kind of regulation that some consumers are looking for. Consumers have been increasingly separated from the food production process since World War II and it seems that many have lost trust as well as touch when it comes to food producers. I’m not sure that farmers deserve the brunt of this sentiment (food processors have certainly affected the system at all points), but if consumers are reassured by stringent organic regulations I can certainly understand the appeal. There’s much musing, discussing, and studying to be done here!

Gearing Up

Welcome! I’m a student in Cornell’s Agricultural Science major, getting ready to graduate in December. This summer, I’m working for – and blogging about – the Small Farms Program and the Organic Dairy Initiative. As an intern, I have the opportunity to learn these programs inside and out by:

  • organizing renewable energy field days and organic dairy field days;
  • profiling the renewable energy strategies of farms;
  • assisting with a field trial to test the incorporation of brassicas into pasture;
  • profiling small dairies;
  • assisting with editing the Small Farms Quarterly;
  • updating relevant websites

The list may change, of course; one of the qualifications for the job is “willingness to learn quickly and work in a flexible environment.”

I’ll be keeping my own blog and publishing excerpts here. Check out Small Farms Program Intern for more!

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