Franklin County farmer aims for sustainable growing
Posted September 25, 2011
Updated September 26, 2011
Louisburg, N.C. — 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."
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."