Cushioned deep in the foothills of Appalachia Ohio, southeast of Athens proper, lies the learning enterprise Woodland Ridge Farm, where hymns of cooperative farming and energy resilience ring loud and true.
The owner, Paul Harper, can be seen carrying this main tune throughout the region as an auctioneer at the Chesterhill Produce Auction; though as he sells peck after peck of locally grown produce he sometimes isn’t as cooperative but is utterly resilient. That’s the nature of being an auctioneer, and it’s only one of Paul’s many gigs.
Most of his heart and time go directly into his life as a steward and practitioner of regenerative systems, both in the agrarian Appalachian-style of agriculture and the emerging regional energy sector. Located on the property is a cozy blue guest home, fully equipped with rooftop solar that also offers shade to the front porch, a kitchen stocked with Athens-local foods and produce (cooperative farming), and a back deck that holds a picturesque view of the forest it’s tucked against.
For a little over a year, this land addition has housed numerous “bed and breakfast” guests, thanks in large part to the interface of the vacation rental website Airbnb. This creates the right conditions for ideal farm-to-table moments, which is the real punchline to this unique place bringing in people from all over seeking the opportunity to dive head first into the local-heavy Athens food experience.
While that project can continually provide a place of rest and a taste of the farm ecosystem for many visitors, Harper’s other operation involves the raising of non-industrial meat, mostly hogs, in a fashion that utilizes the natural habits of the pigs to regenerate the health of the land (and his neighbor’s land through a bartering trade) and will ultimately provide a high-quality pork product. Creating some of the best pasture-raised meat is the internal flame to his holistic engine. To Harper, this type of agriculture creates a type of synergy made of a combination of good accommodation, even better food, and a dash of renewable energy to back it all up.
Under the hood of this quaint scene is a battery-pack of 20 individual cells that act as the main source of power to the house and is fed by the power grid, but only when the sun is hiding. That was Phase 1. With the solar addition on the roof as Phase 2, many of those electrons rushing around in the batteries are now made from solar waves. In this case, Paul doesn’t take too much off the grid, especially with the Phase 3 solar array installed last summer up by the garden.
Without hesitation, Paul has realized that supporting renewable energy is the right thing to do and inherently follows the guiding principles of the farm itself. As he has made a deep commitment to consistently regenerate the land he calls home, an arguably greater commitment has been made on his part to create resiliency for himself by knowing he has a source of power he owns while supporting the businesses and groups advancing a more democratic and decentralized energy system for all.
“For us, what we are trying to accomplish here is food sovereignty and energy sovereignty, and if we needed to, our energy and food needs could come from here,” Harper declared in our interview.
The story of this farm tells us that renewable energy can and must regenerate the faith of the American spirit, of personal responsibility, and is lifted by the social fabric that holds the same values found in both the local food and local energy movements.
Harper’s solar systems were installed by Athena Solar Power, and in combination puts his total supply of power at 12 kW (kilowatts); this is in the form of a 16-panel ground array (Phase 3) and a 35-panel rooftop array (Phase 2). The average Ohio home can easily use around 1100 kWh (kilowatt hours) per month, which gives Paul about 100 hours of sun credits per month before he is drawing from the main grid, if he sticks to state average.
The neat part about his property is that it is wired to act as a micro-grid, meaning that the power gathered from the sun, fed into the battery when not in use or fed to a light bulb or fan when the switch is on, is transmitted across all power lines on the property. Thus, this is a grid solely for the farm. Paul Harper and the Woodland Ridge Farm do have an important lesson here: “The economics of electricity costs we have no control over, I say this all the time: You cannot change people, places, or things, but you can change yourself… and what I can do is keep pigs and land in good shape and put solar in to generate electricity,” Harper said.
In this lesson, we come away asking, what can I do to change the way I use energy?
EVENT: Microgrid Opportunities in Southeast Ohio: A presentation by Mike Zimmer and Roger Wilkens with community discussion. Thursday, Jan. 28, 6:30-8 p.m., OU’s Walter Hall 145.
Editor’s note: Athens County is a semi-finalist in the Georgetown University Energy Prize, a two-year competition that challenges communities to reduce energy use through innovative, community-based solutions. The winning community receives a $5 million prize and national recognition as an energy trailblazer. Stay tuned to The Athens NEWS for biweekly coverage of UpGrade Athens County’s progress in competing for the Georgetown Prize.