Energy Efficient Farming at Glynwood
We believe that energy efficiency is an essential aspect of sustainable farming, so at Glynwood Farm we constantly examine our production methods to maximize efficiency and energy savings. We are committed to demonstrating that reduced energy costs can make sustainable agriculture economically viable in the long term. Some of our current energy saving initiatives —like our radiant heated greenhouse—are experimental innovations. Some—like our use of solar powered electric tractors and draft power—are adaptations of traditional methods. But all of them result in cost savings that make Glynwood Farm’s operation a more economically viable model.
Innovative Heating for Glynwood’s Greenhouse
80% Savings, Plus Higher Yields and Longer Growing Season
In the winter of 2008, we replaced the more traditional forced-hot-air heating unit in our main greenhouse with an innovative radiant heating system. This system uses a propane hot water heater and a circulating pump that sends the hot water through flexible tubing on the greenhouse benches.
The new system has resulted in 80% savings on the cost of heating our greenhouse. These savings will pay for the cost of the system and installation in less than two years of operation.
Moreover, because the greenhouse plants are heated at the root zone—immediately on top of the tubing—the result is much stronger seedling production, which in turn means higher yields. We are also planning for an extended growing season for salad mixes, which will mean more fresh and local produce for our CSA members.
Several innovative farmers have made great contributions to sustainable agriculture by sharing information about how they altered old gasoline powered tractors to run on rechargeable batteries. These tractors run silently and the batteries can be recharged by solar panels. There are now many electric tractors at work in the US busily cultivating vegetables. Further innovations may take this idea and expand it to a replicable design usable on vegetable operations worldwide.
Glynwood has acquired a GE Elec Trak, a small battery powered tractor that was originally sold in the 1970s. The tractor battery can be recharged from a normal outlet or from solar panels. The tractor has a front-mounted mower deck for maintaining the perimeters of our gardens. It also features a three-foot roto-tiller that helps in seed bed preparation. When compared with the gas-powered roto-tiller we previously used, our electric tractor results in an annual cost savings of $300-$400.
As the cost of gasoline rises, so do the number of draft horses working on farms. Meet Maggie— our head gardener Dave Llewellyn’s old-style Belgian draft horse—who aids with preparation of garden beds and cultivation of crops at Glynwood.
At 21 years, Maggie is semi-retired, but is more than up to the task of pulling a small walk-behind cultivator through our gardens. This Amish-designed tool has adjustable width, so that the cultivator can become more narrow as the crops’ foliage fills in. Maggie also treads lightly, preserving soil structure. And when not starring in our community events, she is also a part-time assistant in our soil fertility management program.
When compared with a diesel powered tractor, Maggie results in elimination of air pollution and CO2 emission. She also contributes to soil fertility and does not compact the soil like a tractor.
While awaiting pick-up by Glynwood’s CSA members, our garden produce must be stored in a walk-in cooler. We have adapted two simple technologies to our cooler, which have resulted in 50% savings when compared with the cost of running a traditional refrigerator unit.
With the help of a gadget called the Coolbot, we are using a window air-conditioning unit to cool our walk-in cooler. The Coolbot was invented by Hudson Valley resident and 2005 Glynwood Harvest Award winner Ron Khosla. The Coolbot re-programs the air conditioner to cool our 80-square-foot cooler down to as cool as 32 degrees. In doing so, Coolbot saves a bundle of money since it is far cheaper than a large walk-in cooler to purchase and it is estimated to be 50% cheaper to operate as well.
To learn more about Coolbot, visit www.storeitcold.com.
We noticed that quite a bit of cool air escaped from our walk-in cooler, in the to-and-fro of CSA distributions. To minimize this we adapted a low-tech solution – strip doors. One-foot wide plastic strips hang vertically from above the door frame and nearly reach the floor. The strips overlap by a couple inches, forming a solid barrier across the doorway. When someone leaves the door open now, little air escapes and the Coolbot does not use extra energy to cool the room down. Before this change, we had observed as much as a 10-degree rise in the cooler during CSA distribution. Now the thermostat rises by only a few degrees, even while we are loading the walk-in with CSA shares.
Glynwood Farm is fortunate to have a spacious root cellar, but in the past, because it has not functioned properly, the cellar has not been used much. We have super-insulated the structure and are now monitoring its performance to see if any additional changes will be necessary. The goal is to be able to store root crops like carrots, beets and potatoes through the winter months.