Solar for savings and stewardship at Canosia Grove Farm & Cidery

April 2020

Canosia Grove Farm & Cidery is a Northwoods permaculture based on an historic 40-acre former dairy farm near Duluth, MN. They propagate heritage-variety apples, raise bees and Icelandic sheep, and make cottage cider and honey.

The newest addition to the farm is a solar array atop the beautiful barn at Canosia Grove. We interviewed co-owner Mehgan Blair to learn more about the project and their process of going solar.

We see the solar investment as a demonstration of our values of stewardship. We're also saving money in the long run, which feels good—we're in this for the long term, raising our family here!

Mehgan Blair, co-owner of Canosia Grove Farm & Cidery

Can you tell us a little bit about Canosia Grove?

Mehgan Blair: Sure, we're a northwoods permaculture farm located in Duluth, MN. We're located on an old dairy farm that had a heritage apple orchard on it. We moved to the farm in 2013, and have been restoring and expanding that orchard, which we view as the backbone of our farm operation. We invested in building an on-farm cidery, and were granted our license in 2017.

We also maintain and expand our orchard with grazers—we have a small flock of Icelandic sheep. These are rugged animals that help us convert rough pasture to orchard. We have a Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant-funded project to quantify the work that the sheep do, and how they contribute to soil health at our farm. Check out page 12 of the 2019 MDA Greenbook for this information!

Our cider-making is focused on hyper-local apple sourcing to create small batches of traditional dry sparkling ciders. We sell bottles wholesale to several Duluth bars and restaurants, and we sell cider from the farm as well.

What got you interested in solar energy?

Mehgan Blair: We have a great location up on our barn roof—the broad side faces south, and we've always seen that location as being a perfect solar production area. We realized that we were going to need a new barn roof in coming years. Since we're focused on stewardship at the farm, we thought a solar investment fit right into our farm enterprise portfolio.

Solar on the barn

How did the solar installation go?

Mehgan Blair: It's been a really fun way to observe and quantify our commitment to renewable energy. With the new roof and solar, it took a lot of coordination to pull the elements of the project together, and a lot of patience through a very wet and cold fall before we could call the project complete. CERTs was a great resource for us in understanding funding options and grant opportunities. We decided to finance with Property-Assessed Clean Energy through MinnPACE, which was easy, and Minnesota Power and our local solar installation contractor were also excellent to work with!

How will adding solar benefit Canosia Grove?

Mehgan Blair: We see the solar investment as a demonstration of our values of stewardship. We're also saving money in the long run, which feels good—we're in this for the long term, raising our family here!

Any tips for other farms and businesses considering solar?

Mehgan Blair: One of the big things is figuring out your own motivation. Are you doing this to save or make money, to demonstrate viability, to use in marketing, to commit to a green energy future, to be self-reliant? There are a lot of reasons to do this, and it's a balancing game to determine whether and when the investment should take place. We were able to combine our motivations to save money over the long term with also demonstrating our commitment to stewardship values first, and then were able to combine incentives that made the investment worthwhile, including using the quickly sunsetting federal tax incentive.

Photos from the farm

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