Dual-Use Ag & Solar

January 22, 2021

Dear fellow member of the Northfield Community,

We are writing to help bring some clarity to our motivations and our intentions behind the solar project proposed for some of our land on Pine Meadow Road.

Pine Meadow Road has changed a lot since we purchased what was then the Big Pine Meadow Farm and made it the home of Four Star Farms in 1986. Corn and hay were the only crops grown and the meadow had been home to over 1,000 cows.  If you were to take a walk/drive down Cross Road, turn right onto Pine Meadow and follow it back to Rt-63, you would have passed about 20 houses, with the lower meadow having just 10. 

In the years since, we’ve grown several different crops to keep our farm sustainable and to keep up with changing markets, remodeled and sold three existing homes that had come with the farm, raised two children (who still live on Pine Meadow Rd.), planted hundreds of trees along the roadsides and as field edge buffers, permanently protected more than 1/3 of the farm’s acreage, and maintained virtually all our land in agricultural production.

Fast forward to today and you can find 4 to 5 times as many crops growing in the neighborhood as well as significant pastureland. Drive the same route as described above and you’ll pass more than 50 houses, a half dozen home-based businesses, a farm brewery, a horse farm, and more. 

We are entering a different phase of our lives, and the farm is going through a new evolution.  As we look to retire (at 70+), and with a next generation focused on farming efforts that use less of the land (hops and a farm brewery), we must once again shift how we steward the land that has sustained us for almost 35 years.

Over the last decade we have been approached several times by solar developers who see the wide-open landscape of the meadow as a prime location for solar panels.  We rebuffed them all, having a steadfast commitment to keeping our land in agriculture.  Of the development that has occurred in the neighborhood since 1986, only one house has gone up on the land we’ve owned, and that was to allow for one of our sons to build a home and raise his family on the farm.

Two years ago we were approached by a particular solar developer, BlueWave Solar, who was interested in exploring a different type of solar development that had a vastly reduced impact on the land.  Agricultural dual use solar arrays, as we have come to know them, are far less densely built (roughly ½ the panels per acre), are raised much higher in the air (usually 10 ft in the air), and involve no concrete footings or anchors (just single monopoles driven into the ground), and BlueWave has been a pioneer in dual-use over the last few years.   These agricultural dual-use arrays are built in a way that allows the existing farm soils to remain, such that you can still farm under them. In fact these types of arrays are required by the State to be commercially farmed for the entire 20 year lifespan of the project to comply with the State’s SMART program.   Unfortunately, this atypical construction style is also vastly more expensive than a traditional solar array.  The added construction cost, combined with the distance to the nearest substation requires a project of this proposed size to be economically viable.

If the solar project goes forward, the land under the panels will be converted to long-term pasture.  We have another farmer already waiting for access to this pasture to be the new home of a sustainable small animal livestock operation (primarily sheep, some goats, and possibly pastured poultry). Our fields to the west of Pine Meadow have been permanently protected as farmland.  Our other fields have not.  While we have more flexibility on the unprotected land to adapt and evolve, we are devoted to keep our farmland in farming and we see this project as a solid path forward to doing so. We also see it as an opportunity to give new farmers a leg up with access to land, financial support, and training dedicated to helping them start a new operation on the land that has supported us for so long.

We would be very happy to discuss this with anyone, and to try and answer any specific questions or help address specific concerns that people may have.  We’ve not developed any of our farmland here in the valley over the last 35 years, and we’ve kept virtually all of it in farming over that time.  We hope this new endeavor will allow us to keep it that way long into the future, producing wholesome, sustainable food and greatly increasing the carbon in our soil, all while also doing much more to improve our climate and improve the future for all of us by producing clean energy.  

Your Neighbors,

Bonnie & Gene L’Etoile

After examining multiple options the choice to go the Dual-Use Solar route was made. With that decision the next step was to find a type of agriculture and a farmer with the correct enthusiasm and credentials to help us meet our goals. We would like to introduce you to Jesse Robertson–DuBois, please click the button below to read a letter from him about his farm, farming style and goals. 

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Have you heard we have a new brewery at the farm? Visit www.FourStarBeer.com for more information!