Solar for Sustainable Agriculture: Squash Blossom Farm

Roger and Susan of Squash Blossom Farm were Solar Connection’s first customers. Despite having no agricultural experience between the two of them, Roger and Susan decided to not just buy a farm—their dream of 25 years—but to transition it to permaculture.

“’Sustainability’ wasn’t the word back then, but when we bought this farm, our whole focus was to be respectful of the earth and resources.” They considered leveraging wind power because of their location on a hill, but solar won in the end because of its low maintenance and the convenience of their barn’s south-facing roof.

“The difference between wind and solar is that it’s so nice to just have it up there. There are no moving parts. It makes electricity for you and you don’t have to deal with it at all. We have a busy lifestyle with the farm, so that was important. Also, the panels are lightweight, so they don’t add any structural issues to the barn. We didn’t have to do anything to shore it up.”

Having just purchased the farm, they were strapped for cash, and photovoltaic manufacturing hadn’t yet ramped up, resulting in the now-famous 73% drop in the cost of solar panels. Fortunately, Roger’s mother took responsibility for a portion of the cost as a kind of legacy gift.

‘She said, “I’d like to do something now that’s good for the earth and good for your farm and good for you guys and good for my grandkids.”’

The transition to solar happened in 2010 when the 30% federal tax credit for renewable energy was slated to expire, so Solar Connection and Squash Blossom Farm had to rush the installation in the dead of a Minnesota winter. Despite freezing rain, 17 inches of snow and sub-zero temperature, Solar Connection got the panels up in just two days.

PV solar installation on the roof of a barn surrounded by fields at twilight

Squash Blossom Farm was also the very first solar customer for their electric utility, which meant Roger and Susan had to educate the staff, who were “dismissive” at first.

“They were not very excited about it at all, but afterwards they hired Solar Connection to put solar panels on their building.” The utility later took the step of installing a solar garden, making it possible for any of its members to use solar power. “We feel like we played a little role in changing their attitude.”

Squash Blossom, best known for live music and wood-fired pizza each Sunday night, hosts an unending calendar of events. That means solar powers not just their home and farm activities, but, thanks to net metering, all the equipment for lighting, music and food prep. Alternative energy is a good fit—functionally and philosophically—with their vision that the farm be “small, historic, eclectic, picturesque… a place to celebrate art, music and community.”

With so many people passing through, Roger and Susan get lots of questions about solar, especially the economics.

“Last month, our farm purchased 711 kWh of electricity (for electricity when our solar panels were not active) and sold back 608 kWh (for electricity we produced but did not need), reducing our electric bill to $11.64, not including the monthly facility charge.”

“It’s is an integral part of the story of our farm because we’re trying to be a permaculture farm, and a key part of that is resource conservation. I think solar is probably the biggest impact we’ve had thus far.”

Speak with an expert