Greenfire Farms is transitioning to alternative energy sources, slowly removing our operations from the grid. We do this not only in the interest of the environment, but also to embrace independence. Water for the farm is pumped either with a windmill or a well powered exclusively by solar electricity. Either way—low-tech or high-tech—our water supply is provided by the creative application of alternative energy.

Our windmill is a classic Chicago Aermotor mounted on a 40-foot tower in the middle of our chicken pens. This old workhorse was built almost a century ago, and its rusty tail rotor is riddled with dozens of bullet holes, signs of an ancient encounter with a bored kid and a .22 rifle. But despite the age and vandalism, any gust of wind higher than about seven miles per hour sends the giant metal blades spinning, and the Rube Goldberg contraption that is the pumping mechanism slowly draws clear, cold water from deep within the earth. This rhythmic pumping is accompanied by a melancholy clanking of metal in the high parts of the tower, and the sound seems to stir the animals from their rest. It’s hard to say whether they want to watch the good work being done by the windmill on their behalf or they just enjoy the refreshment of the rising breeze.

If you want to see the windmill, you can go to these videos (select the HD format in the lower right hand corner of the frame):

On those days when there is no breeze (and there are many in the hot, still air of summer), the water is delivered by a solar-powered pump. Two 120-watt solar panels track the sun’s arc each day across the sky, each bolted to a special pivoting rack that reacts like a giant sunflower as it turns its head to follow the sun. The electricity from the panels powers a small electric motor that is connected to a pump, and from 200 feet down in the earth water is drawn to the surface and pumped into troughs and drip irrigation lines. The solar pump is capable of producing several thousand gallons a day, and so the farm is never without water.

Soon, Greenfire Farms will build its first autonomous barn, completely disconnected from the grid. With a row of solar panels on the roof, it will produce all the electricity it needs to fully operate as a start-of-the-art livestock barn. Check back on the progress of the Green Barn as it proceeds over the next year.

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