Rice Lake

Boreal Farm explores taking clean energy plunge to power new root cellar

Extending harvest with an off-grid solar kit

Homegrown Research

 

The Boreal Farm is a certified organic, family-run farm located in Rice Lake near the shore of Lake Superior. Drawing on support from a CERTs Seed Grant, the farm recently explored using an off-grid solar kit to power a new root cellar being installed on the property.

This project is part of a novel food preservation system that can meet the needs of the farm and inspire other local artisan food crafters. Owner and operator Caroline Hegstrom shared reflections from her preliminary research into clean energy technology and options for the project.

 

When I decided to install solar panels to power the root cellar as a cost saving measure, it felt as if I was pushed off a dock to learn to swim.

Caroline Hegstrom, Owner and Operator of The Boreal Farm

Founded as a small teaching farm and living classroom for local farmers and students, The Boreal Farm has been growing certified organic produce and flowers and raising pastured poultry in Rice Lake since 2017. 

Despite growing a successful small business in recent years, one challenge the farm and others like it have faced is a lack of energy efficient food preservation and storage options for the perishable goods they produce.

Caroline Hegstrom, owner and operator of The Boreal Farm, believed clean energy could support this otherwise costly and energy intensive process with benefits that include monetary savings and a lower environmental footprint. She began exploring clean energy options for powering a new root cellar to help preserve the farm’s harvest at its peak.

“When I decided to install solar panels to power the root cellar as a cost saving measure, it felt as if I was pushed off a dock to learn to swim,” Hegstrom said, acknowledging how solar and clean energy technologies can be intimidating to those, like herself, who are new to the subject.

“The challenge isn’t just installing the system, but understanding design, load, troubleshooting and maintenance,” she said.

This project was exploring a very interesting niche of energy use with respect to the needs for climate control in food storage for small farms and food producers.

Colby Abazs, Northeast CERT Regional Coordinator
 

Supported by a Northeast CERT Seed Grant, Hegstrom’s initial research explored the challenges and opportunities of investing in clean energy for her root cellar project and what she would need to understand and manage to ensure a system fit her farm’s needs.

This included learning basic solar energy concepts such as the difference between alternating and direct current (AC/DC). She also dove into the components and layout options for an off-grid solar kit, which typically includes a solar panel, battery and inverter, that could meet the cellar’s lighting and electricity needs.

“For the root cellar, I am keeping it simple,” Hegstrom admitted. At least initially, she plans to use a small DC solar system with battery storage that can run fans and LED lights.

“The twist is the need to monitor the root cellar and outside weather for temperature and humidity to track the root cellar’s response,” Hegstrom explained, sharing some of the considerations she anticipates continuing to track manually when the small system becomes operational.

As a farmer, I never anticipated being on the cutting edge of off-grid solar design for root cellars.

Caroline Hegstrom, Owner and Operator of The Boreal Farm

Drawing on her research, Hegstrom is planning to move forward with the installation of The Boreal Farm’s root cellar this year. While her project is still in the works, her initial research and subsequent implementation of an energy efficient, low-cost food preservation system powered by solar could serve as a model for others.

“This project was exploring a very interesting niche of energy use with respect to the needs for climate control in food storage for small farms and food producers,” said Colby Abazs, who serves as the Northeast CERT regional coordinator.

“As a farmer, I never anticipated being on the cutting edge of off-grid solar design for root cellars,” Hegstrom added.

In addition to resources for projects in the form of Seed Grants, CERTs provides clean energy technical assistance and support for farmers.

Project Snapshot

 
  • Clean Energy Focus: Solar, Research
  • Northeast CERT Seed Grant: $5,000
  • Project Team: Caroline Hegstrom, The Boreal Farm
 
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