Serene, Simple and Sustainable: Farming in the Pierce Conservation District

By Eric Laschever

Larry and Sheri Bailey farm ten acres in Pierce County’s Orting Valley. The well-drained sandy loam soil supports blueberries, a couple of cows, and 500 or so free-range chickens. Larry’s self-described approach to their farm is: “Serene, simple and sustainable.” And when it comes to the farm’s energy, Spark Northwest and the Pierce Conservation District have helped the Baileys achieve their sustainability goals.

Larry Bailey at Clean Food Farm. Photos by DJKmultimedia.

Larry traces his vision back to his days as a young boy visiting his grandfather’s dry-land wheat and barley farm in Alberta. “He was one of the first in the area to practice sustainable farming. He used to say that people have forgotten their roots and what feeds them every day; it’s the sun, but also the soil,” says Larry. 

Now 62, Larry powers his farm with an 8.64 kW solar array atop his tractor shed. The array runs a “solar” egg washer that processes up to 1,000 eggs per hour, along with the farm’s shop, irrigation, well, and refrigeration units. Larry estimates that he will save approximately $1,000 a year for the next 25+ years and that he will recover the installation costs in four to five years. The 24, made-in-Washington solar panels in turn, contribute to the state’s green economy. 

Clean Food Farm. Photo by DJKmultimedia.

The Bailey’s farm exemplifies how the Pierce Conservation District’s Rural Energy Development for Washington Program has evolved. In 2016, the District began a partnership with Spark Northwest to help farmers, rural business owners, and ranchers with renewable energy projects. 

Nick Cusick, the District’s Climate Resiliency Program Coordinator, recounts: “We brought Spark Northwest on board to help us develop a full-scale renewable energy assistance program for Washington’s farms and rural small businesses. We’ve seen great success in this work, with over 300 farmers and rural landowners educated, at least 150 project consults, and over 50 folks we’ve helped apply for grant assistance to make their clean energy goals a reality. Spark Northwest continues to help us grow our impact and train up conservation districts across the state in energy expertise.”

“It’s a perfect combination,” adds Spark Northwest Project Manager, Mia Devine. “When working in rural communities it can take a while to build relationships and trust … and District staff are already a trusted source of up-to-date, unbiased information on environmental conservation. Spark Northwest just needs to bring our clean energy expertise, and the audience is already there and ready to hear the information.”

Pierce Conservation District projects now generate over 2.2 million kWh a year from solar, wind, and renewable biomass. A quarter of the project costs are covered by USDA Renewable Energy for America Program grants, which is the direct result of Spark Northwest and the District’s partnership.

Bailey, known to occasionally wax poetic, captures the alchemical effect of the combined efforts of the District, Spark Northwest, and local farmers as he describes his locally built panels sending “rippling waves of positive energy into the surrounding economy – building community and attracting customers.” 

Parts of this story were drawn from a piece written and photo documented by Dean J. Koepfler. Dean can be reached at deankoepfler@gmail.com and you can learn more about Clean Food Farm on their website.

Spark Northwest’s partnership with the Pierce Conservation District is just one of the ways they are supporting a thriving farming community. You can learn more about Spark Northwest’s rural energy programs here and support their work by making a tax-deductible donation.

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