Franklin County farmer aims for sustainable growing

Posted September 25, 2011
Updated September 26, 2011

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— A Franklin County farming family wants to get back to sustainable, localized and profitable ways of growing food, and their efforts are being held up as a model by the federal government.

Chad Ray, a tenth-generation farmer at Ray Family Farms in Louisburg, says he aims for the "triple bottom-line."

"We all have to make money. We all have to have profit, but we also throw in the people and the planet into the mix. All three have got to work," he said.

Ray lets nature do as much work as possible from his free-range chickens and turkeys to his grass-fed beef cattle.

"We're just trying to take the land that was given us and raise the best animals that we can that will give us back the best food we can," he said.

Atop Ray's red barn is his latest effort at sustainability: 42 solar panels, made possible by an $11,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $20,000 grant from the Farm Bureau and about $14,000 of his own money.

The solar panels generate enough energy to power a third of the farm's operations, saving about $150 a month. The energy is sent directly into the common electric grid.

"Technically, we're not using it. You may be using it. Our neighbor may be using it. A building downtown may be using it," Ray said. "We don't know where the energy's going. It's just going to the grid."

Hogs on Ray family farm Franklin County solar farm promotes sustainable farming

A USDA agent will visit the Ray Family Farm Tuesday to see how Ray's solar project is working. The agency will also host a roundtable at North Carolina State University to discuss how the federal government can help small farmers and create jobs.

Ray said the solar panels will make only a small dent in feeding America's appetite for electricity, but the project is a huge step froward in his dream of a more energy-efficient, self-sustaining and natural world.

"The sun grows our chickens," he said. "The sun grows our grass that we cut for hay that feeds our crops. The sun grows our vegetables that feed ourselves and other people."


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  • mrsatrnr Sep 27, 2011

    If some of you put as much energy into trying to figure out how to make your enviroments better and worrying about what you put in your mouths rather than bashing a hard working, honest man that is trying to improve our world one little step at a time then this world would be a better place. I am 100% sure that there are tax dollars that are going to less important and less worthy projects!

  • storchheim Sep 26, 2011

    Classified, a couple of comments. A small farmer doesn't need the type of equipment that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and s/he can depreciate it by a couple of different legal and accepted means and lower his taxes that way.

    Secondly, a small farmer who tries to compete with Big Ag is making a mistake. Their appeal lies in the fact that they're local, and producing healthy food while treating their animals humanely. There is a wealth of information on the Web pertaining to developing niche markets. A farmer has to be a business man too. Local can't and shouldn't try to compete with national or global corporations.

  • dozierblakew Sep 26, 2011

    At the $150.00 savings per month as reported in the news article, assuming the panels last that long, had Mr. Ray paid for this out of his own pocket, he would break even in just over seventeen years. Yessir, that is what I call a wise investment. (Please, note the sarcasm.) Of course, when he is using public money, who cares about a return on investment?

  • promethianfire Sep 26, 2011

    OldeHeritage. Rock on Dude! You are welcome to a grant funded by my tax dollars if it reduces dependancy on middle-east oil and the petrochem Oil Giants. You are doing your part to help save the planet instead of just paying it lip service and that's waaay cool too.

  • sojournscott Sep 26, 2011

    I really appreciate the re-emergence of small farming and the associated movement toward 'sustainability'(whatever that really means); and it sounds like Chad is a sharp and responsible farmer and citizen. I applaud his awareness and engagement with grant-providing agencies; doing so allows him to realize his return on investment for solar power in 7 years (I'm guessing about the life of the panel hardware also) instead of the 90 years that an un-subsidized expense would yield. The hard truth is that 'green' is not yet 'sustainable', and will not be so until food either becomes much more expensive for the consumer or we all want to pay the bucks to subsidize small farming. To think otherwise is just warm, fuzzy,emotional thinking. Kudos to Chad for his hard work and industry.Few of us have the grit and guts it takes to do what he does in these days.

  • Ambygirl Sep 26, 2011

    oldeheritage-- I'm with you all the way! PWMM--- I'm with you all the way too. The naysayers will NEVER find the good in anything. They are too busy finding negative things to say instead of working to try and make things better. Keep up the good work oldheritage!

  • Red Green Sep 26, 2011

    "The story said a 10th generation farmer, so shouldn't the land at least be paid for by now?" - storchheim

    Obviously you know nothing about the costs of farming. Check out the price of farm implements and everything involved. Small farms need to be able to compete with very large operations owned by corporations.

  • SouthernBornSouthernBred Sep 26, 2011

    Really people. Ya'll are upset because this farmer was able to get a grant to better himself, the family farm, and the animals he provides to locals! You should be upset that we pay for welfare and prison inmates. Get your priorities straight and stop hating on the working man!

  • oldeheritage Sep 26, 2011

    Hello everyone,
    This is Chad, the farmer in this story. I knew when I committed to doing this story and taking these grants that I opened myself up to such criticism. I accept that and I'm not saying any opinion is wrong. But here is how I feel. As long as big oil, big gas, and big ag receive Billions in tax subsidies and grants of their own, why should I or anyone other small business or local farm not take the opportunity to help produce green energy and raise animals that live outside on a family farm. My family and I work 60-80 hrs a week-every week running 3 different businesses to survive these days. In today’s world we have to make doing the right thing for people, animals, and the planet cost effective and profitable so all companies will follow. If you want to stop grants and subsidies then start with the big companies and I will happily follow. Please support any local business near you. Money spent locally keeps small communities from dying. Please support local!

  • Hammerhead Sep 26, 2011

    "A farmer raising animals the way they're supposed to be raised. A wonderful idea. dmccal : I call baloney on your agenda comment. I'm a conservative and purchase locally raised, grass-fed beef and pork, and process my own pastured chickens and goats. Eating healthy, humanely raised meat and purchasing it from a local farmer has no agenda label and I'm tired of it being called a liberal agenda. It's called purchasing local products and keeping more jobs here, something most of us can agree on. I pay about the same for my beef as I would if I purchased it at the grocery and in same cases less, so I save money too."

    Good comment. It's not an agenda, just a return to simple, sustainable, more reponsible lifestyles. I'm working on a similar plan myself. I ride my bike whenever I can too....I know, some kind of commie, liberal agenda that is.