Solar Sheep Farming

Solar farms are cropping up all over NC, in fact, all across the globe. And while they are an excellent idea – harvesting energy from the sun – they create an interesting conundrum.

If they are built in a typical field, how does one keep the grasses and weeds from growing up under and around them? Because as soon as the plant material blocks any part of the solar array, it stops producing electricity.

One answer could be to mow, but this is difficult, and might well require more energy usage than the solar farm produces. A net loss of energy makes little sense.

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A tote of Roundup to kills the weeds along the fence line.

Another lousy option is to spray the fields heavily with toxic chemicals. Clean energy at the expense of fertile soils. Strike two.

But there is another option.

How about putting sheep on the fields to eat down the grasses and other plants? Another example of solar double cropping – a concept piloted so brilliantly by Lyle Estill and Michael Tiemann at the Piedmont Eco-industrial Plant in Pittsboro, NC. The solar panels on that site are so elevated that they can even farm underneath them.

Turns out that this sheep option is exactly what is being tried in Mt Airy at Jimmy Mundy’s farm, and soon, in many other locations as well. Solar companies might not want to get into sheep farming, but they can, and are, collaborating with farmers to do this for them.

Lyle and I visited Jimmy Mundy and his sheep that were grazing under a 25 acre solar farm belonging to O2 Energies about a week ago. He has a buyer for all the sheep he can grow and process – up to 35 a week – which is way more than he is raising now.

But to efficiently increase his sheep production he needs a piece of equipment that holds the animal and flips it upside down, so he and his son can quickly clean the hooves. “Every animal has an Achilles’ Heel,” he explained. “With sheep it’s their feet. They need to be cleaned. The last time we did our flock it took my son and I three days. With this piece of equipment we can do them all in a morning.”

Enter Slow Money NC.

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Lyle is enamored with all things relating to clean energy, and he was quick to step forward to make Jimmy a loan. The terms are $5000 at low-interest, as is the rule for Slow Money loans made in NC. Jimmy plans to make quarterly payments and get Lyle paid back in just one year. He plans to add another 100 head or so to adequately keep the plants down on this site, and even then it will not be a perfect solution. Sheep like the small young shoots and unless they are really hungry, will pass on much of the taller, woodier weeds.

But it is a move in the right direction. Along the crucial trajectory where we keep lowering our carbon footprint, and finding out of the box solutions that preserve a healthy planet for future generations. I suspect this is just the beginning of Slow Money’s role in funding solar sheep farming.

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Thanks go to our good friend and Project Engineer at O2 Energies, Rebekah Hren. She told Jimmy about Slow Money and she told us about Jimmy.

It just goes to show, that yet again, Slow Money isn’t really about the money. It’s about the people. Farmers, lenders, local food processors and vendors, people who will eat locally raised lamb, and of course the hundreds of folks that can now turn on their lights, tapping the boundless energy coming from the sun.

Summer Pots & Pizza Party – The Afterglow

July 28th     11:30 pm

I have to say that was an incredible party. For days people have been asking me, “How many tickets have you sold? How many people do you think are coming?”

And I would venture a guess. “Last time I looked we had sold 80 tickets online.” But then there were all the emails from folks asking if they could pay at the door.  And the Facebook event that said lots more were coming than had bought tickets.

But all that is unimportant now. Because the party is over.

Except not quite.  There is a small child’s red flip flop on the back step, and a couple of knives that are not mine on the dish drain.

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I have washed up the myriad of pottery plates we used to serve Angelina’s baklava and cookies, Celebrity Dairy’s cheeses, Joan’s chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies, Donna Bianco’s fresh cannolis, and the stack of bowls that served up local blueberries and cherry tomatoes donated from 3 local farms, and two huge platters that had been full of local sweet corn. And the sticky plates that had been stacked high with Mackenzie’s right-out-your-childhood rice krispie treats.

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“I don’t bake,” she told me at the farmers market on Saturday.  “But can I bring rice krispie treats?”

Darling, you can do anything you want to. You and Tucker showed up early, set up your tent, grills, and table, and spent the entire evening over a hot charcoal grill pushing out huge grilled barbecue chicken wings for the crowd. Then you hustled over to pair up with Tucker and run a splendidly entertaining live auction, all with a 5-month baby in the oven…then back to pack up your tent, table, coolers, grill, etc. before finally being the last to leave.  Can you have anything at all that you ever ask from me?  Why yes. You may.

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Now, as I write this, at 11:46pm, the rain has started. It is pounding on the tin roof over my office. The dishes are done, and the kitchen is almost back to normal.

There are still 3 or 4 pop-up tents in the yard and field down by the barn, but they will be fine.

What a wonderful party. I spent my time running from cabin, to the barn, to the house, and back again. Replenishing desserts, or cheese, or calling out raffle winners. I kept getting glimpses of people that I would loved to have had a chance to talk with. To catch up on our lives or to talk about Slow Money. Sometimes I managed to get a hug, or a kiss, and a very fleeting conversation. But never more.

I met new people who had come to the event to talk to me about Slow Money. I hope they will try again. To some of my dearest friends I only managed a wave. But I can’t thank you enough for coming. For showing up at our very first Slow Money NC party and fundraiser.

I put this event in our success column.

First we ran out of name tags – I only bought 100. So I rustled up some more. Then we needed to get the PA in place so we could start calling out the raffle winners. About when we thought the auction was over, Amy stepped up and offered piano lessons, and then David offered fiddle lessons. The generosity just kept coming.

I got out-bid on a tennis lesson by one of the sweetest teen-agers in town, and I was in the barn helping a pottery customer and missed out on his younger brother’s blackberry pie. Maybe next time.

We were woefully disorganized about collecting money after the auction, but folks were very patient. Next year we will be better at this!

Tomorrow I will try to put together a list of all the people we need to thank, but it will be incomplete.  I will no doubt forget someone.DSC_0122

In truth, everyone who ventured out to our house and pottery tonight needs a note of thanks. Some came from over an hour away. I know. We never spoke, but I saw you from across the crowds.

1:30am

I went back and finished cleaning the kitchen, then picked up a flashlight and took out the compost. “Too wet to woo,” came a call from a nearby tree.

A few hours earlier there were nearly 200 people in this yard, but now it’s just me, and the Barred Owl.

What a wonderful day.

Life just doesn’t get much better than this.

The Seesaw

“somehow, i never thought it would be so hard to loan money to strangers with no security and almost no return”

When this email arrived I laughed out loud. Because the funniest things are those that are true, or at least mostly true.

Jeff, in his generosity, had heard about Slow Money and he approached me about finding a local farmer that might need capital. I gave him a couple of names and numbers, and  he drove a few miles to meet with a farmer who lived near him, and he also spoke to another farmer who lived a few more miles away. He offered each of them a low-interest loan for equipment they said they needed. But, then – as it happened – they each found a way to get along without needing a Slow Money loan. Which meant that they didn’t need Jeff.

In the larger scheme of things, that’s great.  Whenever possible the best course of action, especially for any small business owner, is to stay out of debt.

But Jeff is a willing potential Slow Money lender who cares deeply about the local food movement, and he’s having trouble finding someone to help. Luckily he is also a great guy, with a wonderful sense of humor, as you can see by his lighthearted email.

hey carol,
somehow, i never thought it would be so hard to loan money to strangers with no security and almost no return.    [italics added]

I talk about this phenomenon in my book, Financing Our Foodshed, in a section called “The Seesaw.”  Because that is exactly what I find myself riding in making Slow Money ‘matches.’

To clarify, we don’t really lend money to strangers. All of the Slow Money lenders and borrowers have built a friendship, and the trust between them is what these loans are built upon. No doubt Jeff will soon build a relationship with another farmer, and get to make a low-interest Slow Money loan.

But, in making these matches, some weeks there are too many farmers and food entrepreneurs who have connected with me about needing a piece of equipment, or some start-up capital, or a walk-behind tiller – so many that it keeps me up at night.

Other times I am worrying about folks like Jeff that want to make a difference in their foodshed, but just need a way to make that happen. And I don’t have anyone that is ‘loan ready” that also lives in their foodshed, the area that they live in.

You would think by now, after catalyzing over eighty-five direct, peer-to-peer Slow Money loans here in NC to some 43 sustainable farmers and food businesses that support them – that making these loans happen would be like falling off a log.

But social change is never quite as easy as that. After all, we are dealing with people here, and complicated regulations that are not written to make it an obvious or easy road for the little guy – the small business owner. Every day I meet good, extraordinary people, but with all our time pressures, and quirkiness about money, and the myriad of details that come into play for each and every one of us, working out these first-ever-in-history simple Slow Money loans – well, it just takes time.  Which may be part of why it’s called Slow Money.

But each lender and borrower gets their own moment in history. Each relationship, each loan, is a radical departure of the money lending of our day. This is money that traditional lenders will not touch, being loaned to businesses that are re-engineering a broken food system.  These are loans to the heroes we will celebrate tomorrow but who are too over-worked today to hardly look up to receive our accolades.

And so each day I awake to hurl myself against a system that propels corporations ahead of  ‘coop’–erations, because I remain convinced it does not have to be so hard.

Angelina and John get a great story in the local paper!

After a bite of Angelina’s homemade baklava and with local honey still dripping from their chins, two lenders took a huge bite out of the credit card debt that Angelina and her husband, John incurred when they added a seating area to Angelina’s Kitchen, their unique, gourmet Greek restaurant in the small town of Pittsboro, NC.

Those two Slow Money loans meant that instead of paying nearly $500 a month for interest only, she could pay less than $200, and in just a few years became debt free.

Now Mark is ready to take Big Spoon Roasters, his delicious roasted nut butter business, from his basement to a nearby warehouse and his friend Jane would love to help – if she and I could just get past playing phone tag this weekend and have time to talk about the possible terms of their Slow Money loan.

We are going to make that happen. As we bounce from one side of this seesaw to the other, our soils are becoming more fertile, our local foodsheds more resilient, and our communities stronger and more wonderful to live in.

We can do this. We already have. And we can do this again and again. Not only here in Chatham County, but all over North Carolina, and across the USA and beyond.

Carol Hewitt and Jordan Puryear – two of the co-founders of Slow Money NC – enjoying their local coop grocery store, Chatham Marketplace, in Pittsboro, NC
Carol Hewitt and Jordan Puryear – two of the co-founders of Slow Money NC – enjoying their local coop grocery store, Chatham Marketplace, in Pittsboro, NC

Because it matters. Because it makes a difference. A good one.

To learn how you might bounce up and down along with us you can go to the Slow Money website, or read about these stories in Financing Our Foodshed; Growing Local Food with Slow Money.

Or just enjoy a moment of fun, filmed the day my books arrived in Pittsboro.

And you can join me in  – slowly and surely  – building resilience in our local foodshed.

Succotashed Sneak Preview – Thursday, March 14

As a native of Siler City, Nichol Price is especially invested in the future of her hometown.  Like everyone else who calls Chatham County home she wants to see her community grow and prosper.  During her training in the culinary arts program at Central Carolina Community College she began to notice the abundance of small farms producing high quality vegetables and grass fed meats in her area.  When she saw an opportunity to open a restaurant in the old Sidewalk Café location in historic downtown Siler City she realized it was not only as a chance for herself but for the community on a whole to increase their support of their local food system. Price’s goal at Succotashed, her new café, is to bring the products grown nearby directly to restaurant go-ers right there in Chatham County.

Succotashed will be the first “Farm-to-Fork” cafe in Siler City.  This environmentally-friendly model has worked extremely well in the nearby Triad and Triangle areas, but has yet to be introduced in this small Chatham County town.  As a chef, Price is thrilled at the opportunity to showcase what she learned in CCCC’s Green & Sustainable Foods program and hopes that Succotashed will have a positive impact on Siler City’s local economy.

In order to raise the capital she needs to purchase equipment and get Succotashed off the ground, Price started a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo. She hopes to raise $9,500, which will be used to purchase equipment to outfit her kitchen – such as a convection oven and energy-efficient commercial refrigerator. With 12 days left, her Indiegogo campaign is currently one-fifth of the way to reaching her goal, but Price hopes to get as close as possible before time runs out.

Price also reached out to Carol Peppe Hewitt, director of Slow Money NC, for help. Slow Money NC specializes in helping local farmers and food entrepreneurs around the state to connect with potential investors in their communities. Hewitt and Price are teaming up to present a Sneak Preview of Succotashed on Thursday, March 14 from 5:30-7:00 pm at 113 Raleigh Street in Siler City. This event is free and open to the public and will allow interested community members and potential investors to see the café, meet the owner, and talk about the importance of supporting Siler City’s local foodshed.

Slow Money was moving FAST tonight in Charlotte

I just returned home from Charlotte, and though that’s over a two hour drive, it was easy to stay awake. I just kept thinking back to all the good news and great company of the evening.

Tonight’s Slow Money NC Charlotte Gathering brought together about a dozen Slow Money enthusiasts from Charlotte, Indian Trail, MonroeIMG_3369, and even Cabarrus County.

We got an update on the progress at Windcrest Farm from Mary Roberts.  She received Slow Money loans from two lenders a few months back, and was able to dig a new well for use by the farm.

Now they can take a shower and water their organic produce at the same time!

Here’s Mary with Donna, one of her lenders and long time customer and friend.

We heard from Lucy, a Certified Master Composter, about composting projects she is working on throughout the city, and from David, an emerging farmer who is farming at the Elma C. Lomax Farm Incubator in Concord, NC. We swapped stories, gave advice, shared resources and ideas – and schemed about to get even more Slow Money moving in the greater Charlotte area.

Earlier, in a conversation with Lynn Caldwell, from the Atherton Market, we confirmed that Charlotte will get the next Funds to Farms event! The date is set for the evening of May 12th. Check back as the location will be announced soon. The first Funds to Farms event in Durham at Fullsteam Brewery in January sold out, and raised over $2000 that was given back to the presenting farmers. Check out the website for the details, then come join us on May 12th!

Then we finisheIMG_3371d off the evening with another Slow Money loan!

This one went to Dennis Berry of Berry Apiary for more equipment to increase his honey business.

Here’s Dennis and Charlie, his lender, smiling as a check passes across the table.

Slow Money NC Charlotte is going strong. You can join their group on Facebook, or send an email to be added to their mailing list.

Thanks to Healthy Home Market for the use of their conference room.

Way to go Slow Money NC Charlotte!

Slow Money NC gets LinkedIn

I have never knew quite what to do about LinkedIn. In fact I had to resort to Google to be sure how to spell it. (turns out there are a variety of ways…)

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Carol on her LinkedIn profile, Smile!

But for months/years? I have been getting invitations from random people, many who I respect and think are quite intelligent, inviting me to Link In somehow.  But why?  As best I could tell this was a site for folks who are looking for work, or for professional connections – and those who are looking for potential employees.

So I pressed ‘delete.’  As an independent, small business owner for the past several decades, and a raging social activist prone to frequent and uncontrollable ranting and raving, I can only assume I am completely unemployable.

But the requests kept coming, and many were from folks I would love to do more than just ‘accept’ but who I would be delighted to spend the evening with – commiserating about the challenges we face as we try to save and nurture our lovely planet and all her species, and to also pat one another on the back for the pitiful, but real progress we make along the way. So we can keep on keepin’ on.

Tonight I decided maybe this might be a useful tool to help with all that, so I took the plunge and started accepting ancient invites, and even inviting anyone else that I thought might also be a ‘climate change/local food activist.’  I started with 8 ‘connections’ and within about an hour had taken that to 130. (Which says something about what my fellow activists are doing at 8pm on Monday night…)

And I updated my profile. Here’s what I wrote, keeping it under the 2000 character limit.

“Since learning about “Slow Money” in May of 2010, I have been meeting sustainable farmers in North Carolina who need capital (in the form of a direct peer-to-peer affordable loan) and connecting them to the generous people in their communities who understand the importance of protecting fertile topsoil, and who care about supporting local farmers/local food.

It has been a wild and busy couple of years – creating, and now riding, the Slow Money NC seesaw. First we found potential lenders who cared about soil fertility, local food, and building resilience in their foodshed. Many were also fed up with sending money off to Wall Street where it had no positive impact on their community.

Then we found hard-working, deserving farmers and innovative local food entrepreneurs (often in the same person) who just needed a few thousand dollars to start, run or expand their business – but had few, or no, places to turn to for help.

And we introduced them to one another. If they chose – a low-interest loan was the result, over a plate of gluten-free cookies, or standing in a field looking at a potential greenhouse site.

I like to believe we are making a difference. As of Feb 2013, over 70 Slow Money NC loans have been made to 30+ farmer/food entrepreneurs totaling about $640,000. (By the time you read this, that’s probably changed, as we are helping catalyze a loan or more a week these days.)

You can read about our antics at http://www.slowmoneync.org. If you got this far, I also hope you are chafing at the bit to make a Slow Money loan. There’s a place to tell us that at the website as well.

Not a lender today? No worries. Any donation helps ‘pay it forward’ and you can help make next week’s loan happen.

Either way, it’s a wonderful prospect that we just might get a trillion dollars or more out of Wall Street and into local farms. It would transform our grocery stores, our collective health, our planet’s ability to sustain us as a species, and it would be so much fun.

I hope you will join us.”

There you have it. Now it is time to get back to reading Borrower Information Forms, and potential Lender Pledge Forms and seeing who might want to meet and talk to whom. And making those powerful connections.

Here at Slow Money NC we have our own little private link-in to the small farm/local food movement. And we have work to do getting them the community capital they need to start-up, to survive, and to thrive.

That’s the real work on this seesaw.  Thanks to all of you.

All good,
Carol

Slow Money NC likesTreehugger

Sami Glover’s article about us was also published by Treehugger, which is pretty darn awesome!

Meanwhile we are working on several loans this week – like the one to Bella Donna in Pittsboro, NC and a couple to Cocoa Cinnamon in Durham, NC.

And we sent out a fundraising letter, as we are down on our knees hoping to raise enough in just a very few weeks to meet a matching grant that will allow us to keep this project going.