Milagro Farm: A Solar Powered Farm
by Amy Olsen
At 5:00 every morning we stumble out of bed, grab our headlamps and start our days. Kris heads out to the pasture to feed our chickens, we’ve lost count at over 4,000 of them now. The low hum of the silo and the loud squawking of bellies that are begging to be fed can be heard throughout our property. Slowly the sun rises revealing all that is only seen by the ears. It all looks a little clearer now and it’s official, the day has begun.
We’re farmers. Let’s face it, our lives revolve around the sun. We used to be more aware of the sun when we relied on it and it alone for our daylight hours. When the sun set our activities were done for the day. Our animals are on that schedule, basically everything around us is on that schedule except for us.
Rewind 8 years, Kris and I lived in California when we were young and had more energy. I was teaching elementary school full time and Kris ran our organic vegetable farm. We lived on 80 remote acres bordered by national forest and BLM land. We lived in simply and our only source of power was photovoltaic power aka solar power. We stored our excess power in a battery bank, qualifying us for official off grid living. Just in case you just got dreamy eyed, the title is far more glamorous than the reality. We pumped water from a well during the day with solar, which was gravity fed to our vegetable fields and home. We were able to store a little energy in our battery reserves for the evening activities, which were limited because there wasn’t a lot of energy left in the solar batteries or our own batteries by the end of the day!
Fast forward to 2007. We moved to Red Rock TX and bought a small farm that had a sweet little house and a large pond. We relocated to be closer to family and to start anew. We started being vegetable farmers and surprisingly our small flock of family chickens turned into a thriving business. It grew and grew until we only supplied one crop of vegetables per season and recently we’ve phased out of growing vegetables completely.
When we moved into our grid-tied Texas home I was most excited about having lights that always worked day and night and centralized heating and cooling! Having electricity at the push of a button seemed so luxurious. Being a farmer is a tough job and at the end of the day coming home into an air conditioned home seemed like a simple pleasure we could afford, until I started looking at where our energy was coming from. I always like to research my choices and the choices we were making did not make sense. 81% of energy in Texas is derived from two sources, coal and natural gas. From that moment on, we were determined to make sure that the energy that we used came from renewable sources. We decided to power 100% of our farm from the sun! Last year we accomplished this with a solar system designed and installed by Native.
Besides the obvious environmental benefits of solar, we were excited that due to a rapid decrease in system cost over the past few years, solar energy was a great financial investment. Plus, it gives us great satisfaction to see our meter spinning the opposite direction when the brilliant sun rises in the morning. Our journey as farmers began with a strong connection with the sun. Amidst the age of technology our relationship only deepens as we use the sun to power our entire lives. We proudly sell “solar powered” eggs in every sense of the word.
You can enjoy our solar powered eggs at: Odd Duck, Barley Swine, Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Olivia’s, Olamae, Texas French Bread, Thai Fresh, Full English, Dai Due, Gardener and in your own kitchen.
Saturday, find us at the Sustainable Food Center farmer’s market in Republic Park. 9-1
Solar PV stats:
- 11.2 kW system
- 40 – 280 watt solar panels
- 40 microinverters with energy production monitoring
- Yearly saving in electricity: $1566
- July 2015 electric bill $ – 9.36 (residence and business)
- August 2015 electric bill $ 9.18 (residence and business)
- Chickens are moved to fresh grass every week, if we don’t have grass we irrigate and plant to have fresh grass. This is what makes healthy chickens and delicious eggs.
- Kris is the sole labor on the farm, when we leave we hire a family friend to fill in the gaps.
- We have 3,500 chickens (we think, it’s hard to count that many chickens)
- We order 3 tons of food every 8 days
- We have 5 dogs (which watch over each flock of chickens)
- We order new baby chickens every 4 months
- Our eggs are never more than a week old, and usually never more than three days old. Most grocery store eggs are months old. You can taste the difference!