When one first thinks of solar energy, farming is usually not the first thing that comes to mind. Although not traditionally considered solar energy, the sun is essential for Farming. This author has grown up on a small almond orchard in Northern California and would like to share the little known story of how that tiny, healthy and tasty nut arrives at your local supermarket…and there’s a parallel between natural farming and the solar energy seeds being planted around the country.
The almond industry first came to Durham commercially in 1895. For years, Durham was considered the almond capital of California. As the industry grew, California produced more and more almonds (more than 200 million pounds of almonds in 1974). This year, the crop is projected to bring in more than 1.33 billion pounds! Two-thirds of the crop is exported, more than half of that to European countries. Almonds are considered the most “nutritionally dense” nut available and are part of many nutritional diet plans. You can learn a bit more about almonds at this great site – www.almondboard.com.
As a third generation farmer on this property, my grandparents and parents have built houses and improved the property. I grew up with the understanding that hard work and being dependent on weather and seasons was normal. Sure, not nearly as difficult as my grandparents’ earlier dairy farming, but farming nonetheless. It was at one point years ago while traveling and living on farms in Australia that I wrote in a diary my most profound observation ever, “Farming is the science of guessing.” This is true of all forms of solar as well, but we’ve developed additional means and methods of predicting our success…calculated guessing, well, or so we think.
Back to solar. Trees spend the winter months “resting.” During this time of less light, they prepare to awaken in spring. As they awaken, you carefully adjust water and nutrient levels to optimize chances of a large harvest. Planting, pruning, and managing the orchard floor become the important tasks. Bees are used to pollinate the almond trees that have a beautiful white blossom. For a few weeks, orchards appear to be blanketed with this fake snow.
When summer hits, irrigation is the key. Too much, you get fungus. Too little, stress is put on the trees. Just right, and you get a profitable crop. Summer is our most profitable month for harvesting the kWh of solar energy systems as well, particularly in many parts of California where we rarely get rain during the summer months.
As fall approaches, so does harvest. Trees are shaken with machines that hug the base of the tree and vibrate them for less than 30 seconds. On the ground the almonds lie – to be sun dried for a few days. Nuts are mechanically swept into rows where they are put in carts with “Pickup Machines.”
As fall approaches, so do new energy seeds. We have projects in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Southern California that you will soon be hearing a lot more about.
Farmers are often at the forefront of new and cutting edge technology. They are constantly looking for improvements that can reduce negative effects on the land and increase profits. Recently, Paramount Farms installed an 8 acre solar energy plant. The 1.1 megawatt, $7.5 million solar plant in the San Joaquin Valley, is the largest single-site, privately owned solar plant in the U.S. If farmers are going solar, you know that it makes business sense.
With increased pressures on the small farmer, I hope that I am able to continue our family’s way of life. My wife and I hope to instill a work ethic and respect for nature in our three young children. Next time you sit down for a meal, think of all of the ingredients and work involved in growing your food.