By Patrick Boddicker
CEI is thrilled to be partnering with Howard County’s Office of Community Sustainability, Power 52, and the Chesapeake Conservation Corps program of the Chesapeake Bay Trust on an innovative project demonstrating agrivoltaics. Agrivoltaics is the dual use of land for agricultural purposes and solar energy generation. Project partners will construct raised garden beds and install solar panels above the beds.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, wouldn’t the solar panels shade the plants making them not grow? The answer is no, and in fact installing solar panels above plants can be beneficial to the plants and the panels. When solar panels are above plants in close proximity, a microclimate is created that affects both panels and plants. Shading of the plants causes less water loss due to evaporation, which makes the plants use water more efficiently allowing them to grow in hotter, drier conditions. The evaporation that does occur helps to cool down the panels which in turn makes them more efficient at converting solar energy into electricity.
The demonstration plot at CEI's Freetown Farm will serve as an example that other community gardens and home gardens can replicate. The County hopes to also expand the practice of agrivoltaics to larger farms after CEI helps to demonstrate its viability. In an ever changing climate we need to do our best to combat the causes of climate change, preserve our natural environment, and increase resiliency in a warming world. Agrivoltaics in Howard County will produce clean renewable energy and locally grown foods with little impact on the environment.
By Taylor Logsdon, CEI's Freetown Farm Manager
I am continually amazed by the complexity and beauty I see during a walk in the woods. In every available niche some plant/animal/fungus has found a place to not only grow and live, but to thrive. Nuts, berries, mushrooms and medicinal herbs all grow on their own volition, without any assistance from the human world. There is competition and, more importantly, a whole lot of cooperation between all these living parts.
In a food forest, or forest garden, we take our inspiration and design from these systems. Where in an orchard we might plant a fruit tree, in a food forest we plant a fruit tree family or guild. We work with layers and niches. Every site asks for a different design. Sun exposure, site size, water availability and flow dictate the species chosen. Nuts, fruits, berries, vines, herbs, mushrooms and perennial vegetables create a dynamic community of useful plants while reducing inputs and increasing yields. The plant niches we fill create habitat for wildlife, food for humans and a beautiful and abundant landscape for us to steward and above all enjoy.
At Freetown Farm, since the fall we have been steadily planting our forest garden with species including persimmon, pawpaw, elderberry, currants, black cherries, raspberries, blackberries, serviceberry, chokeberry, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and more. This area is adjacent to the two acres of woods we have at the back of the farm, ultimately it will extend the woods further north on the property in a delicious way. In the existing woods we are also planting more diverse, edible and/or medicinal species such as redbud, spice bush, hazelnut, sugar maple, and black walnut. It will be wonderful to watch this part of the farm grow!
We are here to help you design and install a forest garden on your property as well.
Email email@example.com for more details!