Jericho Settlers Farm grows more for less
15 years ago, Christa Alexander and Mark Fasching started selling the extra produce from their prolific vegetable garden. They invested in some chickens, then some livestock, some more land, and before they knew it they were farming full-time. Fast forward to today. Jericho Settlers Farm is a thriving diversified, organic farm with a large number of wholesale clients as well as CSA, farmers market offerings, and a farm stand.
And now, by pairing onsite solar power and advanced wood heating with energy efficiency, the farm has managed to extend their growing season pretty much year-round.
Between hands-on energy consultation and some helpful cost-sharing agreements with Efficiency Vermont, UVM’s Agricultural Engineering program, and local contractors, she and Mark have managed to grow their business while keeping true to their values and managing overhead.
A large solar array provides all the electricity the farm needs, powering everything from their vegetable coolers to the forklift they use in cold-storage. Large, East-facing windows in the production barn provides natural light for the workers, which—beyond being a cost-saving measure—help keep morale up through the long winter months.
Unlike the dry, packaged goods found in most convenience stores, fruits and vegetables require precise temperature and humidity levels. Using advanced refrigeration technologies including evaporator fan controls, efficient motors, and some simple strip curtains over cooler entrances allows the farm to use far less energy than with a conventional set-up.
The farm uses a heat recovery unit to capture waste heat released from their produce cooler’s refrigeration system, then directs that excess heat into a storage area used for onions, squash, and garlic. The heat is used to cure—or slowly dry—these crops so they will keep well through the winter.
“We wanted to commit to year-round production, but knew it would increase our energy demand. The great thing about working with Efficiency Vermont is that they know how to keep energy demands under control, and have helped farms with this before. You don’t have to figure it out from scratch.”
By using a wood pellet boiler and some strategic crop management, Mark and Christa keep fresh greens growing nearly year-round. This allows them to sell produce when it is most in-demand, by growing greens in the fall and early winter and then getting tomatoes to market in early spring—without relying too much on propane.
Keeping production going year-round has helped the farm stay profitable through inevitable difficulties like spring flooding. It has also allowed them to nurture their workforce. “Because we offer more steady employment, we attract great employees. And when people stay on year after year, they’re building up their knowledge base, so it just adds even more value back to the farm.”
Dick Soule Refrigeration (Enosburg Falls)
UVM Extension Agricultural Engineering (Bennington)
Boivin Farm Supply (Addison)
Paul Mueller Company
Kirby Electric (Underhill)
FW Webb Company