Planting roots in solar

  • Jessica O’Neil, executive director of Just Roots Farm in Greenfield, speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new solar array installed at the non-profit’s  fields. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Jessica O’Neil, executive director of Just Roots Farm in Greenfield, welcomes guests and dignitaries to the ceremony. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, with Jessica O’Neil, executive director of Just Roots Farm in Greenfield, during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new solar array installed at the non-profit’s farm fields. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Mayor Bill Martin speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new solar array installed at Just Roots Farm. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Jessica O’Neil, executive director of Just Roots Farm in Greenfield, welcomes Rep. Paul Mar, D-Peru, to the podium. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/29/2019 11:37:21 PM

GREENFIELD — Between spoonfuls of hearty vegetable soup on a drizzly Friday, Brian Adams sat Friday at a picnic table situated between 67 plots of community farmland and the new 9.2 kilowatt solar array that will power a third of the farm.

Through the donations of Adams and Morey Phippen, along with the support of Northeast Solar, city and state officials, Greenfield’s community farm Just Roots was able to do what many nonprofits struggle to overcome despite their best intentions — power their organization with solar energy.

The start-up costs for solar often are the “Achilles’ heel” to embracing a process that farms like Just Roots ethically agree with but financially cannot cover. 

“Our ability to get them over that hurdle,” Adams said, “so that they can get to do the good work they do is such a blessing.” 

Executive Director of Just Roots Jessica O’Neill welcomed community activists, farmers and elected officials to the farm, which is in the north part of town along the campgrounds. They celebrated the installation of the solar array that was also supported by the City of Greenfield and the state Legislature. 

“We’re building community and relationships along the way,” O’Neill said. “We’re a farm without our community — but we are a community farm.”     

The farm, founded in 2011, provides the most farm shares for low-income people in the state. Part of Just Roots’ purpose is to increase access to fresh and nutritious food for community members, particularly those who may otherwise not be able to access it. 

“I feel so grateful to have the solar at a place like Just Roots that is so welcoming to the whole community and really aware of the need of the access to fresh nutritious food,” Phippen said.

Investing in solar can be a challenge for nonprofits, O’Neill said, which requires bringing all the stakeholders together through the financing and permitting processes.

“There are so many extra layers that affect everyone,” Rusty Ingold-Smith, lead of Northeast Solar, said. “Understandably solar gets put on the back burner.” 

Ingold-Smith, who grew up in Leyden, said the solar array on the farm generates about three megawatts an hour. 

State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, joined the festivities, speaking about his commitment to help communities invest in solar. 

“How do we keep, especially in western Massachusetts, ourselves not reliant on other states, other countries,” Mark said. 

Mayor William Martin, who about a decade ago worked with Just Roots founder Jay Lord to secure this land for farming, said it’s important for a community to be able to feed itself. 

“What a perfect place to do that,” Martin said. 

The Greenfield City Council in the past few months approved a 30-year lease extension of the land to Just Roots and also committed $25,000 toward rehabilitation of the farm’s barn, which is also receiving state money. 

This leaves the solar array as just another addition to the continued improvements to the farm. 

“The issue of climate change is so alarming to us and here is one thing we can do,” Adams said. “It’s a small thing, but it’s something.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264




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