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NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) Helps Rural Producer Install Solar Ener

By Fay Garner, Public Affairs Specialist, Communications, Marketing, and Outreach, NRCS, Auburn, AL


Sandra Simone installs solor energy through CIG
Going "Green" is important to Sandra Simone, a rural landowner in Alpine, Alabama.  She installed solar energy through CIG that helps keep her farm more natural.

A Renewable Energy-Solar demonstration tour was held on Sandra Simone’s property in Alpine, Alabama.  New technology was a long time in coming to this rural setting. 

In 2009, the Alabama Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) awarded a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) to the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN) to support demonstrations for Small Scale and Limited Resource Farmers (SS/LRF). ASAN partnered with the Sustainable Rural Regenerative Enterprises for Families (SURREF), and project director Euneika Rogers-Sipp, whose goals were to develop and test micro-irrigation systems and solar-powered water pump systems.  To help fund Energy Efficiency projects through Irrigation for Small Scale and Limited Resource Group Farmsteads, Euneika had the perfect person in mind, Sandra Simone.

Sandra is a LRF in rural Talladega County.   She was one of the first four farmers in the state to be “certified organic.”  She has property across a county road from her home where she has a small herd of goats.  She wanted to expand and grow some crops.  She had received local Soil and Water Conservation District financial assistance to install a well 12 years before. She had no electricity on the site and used an electric generator to pump the water for her small goat herd.  She tried to secure commercial power for the well, but because the property had no dwelling, the costs were astronomical--$4,000-$9,000.  Sandra could have used city water, but she wanted well water to keep the farm as natural as possible. 

Sandra began looking for alternative energy methods and found the most viable was solar energy.  After exploring the need for a few years, she could find no one to install solar energy in small scale situations. 

Sandra was aware of SURREF and had worked with Euneika and Coosa Valley Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Coordinator Eddie May.  She mentioned her need to them, and through the years, they tried to help her find a source for alternative energy.  In 2009, while at a meeting at Tuskegee University, Euneika heard about some new technology with solar energy.  She suggested Ms. Simone’s site for a possible solar irrigation installation.  The rest is history.

Euneika said, “The Energy Efficiency Irrigation for Small Scale and Limited Resource Group Farmsteads” project was put together with the help of ASAN and community partners.  We wanted to take a community-based approach at bringing in alternative or renewable energy to our LRFs.  Because of the large upfront costs, a lot of them are left out of the new technological advancements.  We wanted to see how we could help implement these technologies for these farmers.  We are evaluating how this project is going to save energy and what the costs are going to be long-term.”  Our ultimate goal is to inform the development of low-cost affordable systems for those farmers.

Sandra said, “I appreciate all of the help that I have had in putting this place together. My ultimate goal was to have children learn about farming here.  Because of solar energy, I was able to put in about an acre of micro-irrigation under plastic mulch.  This summer I did an entrepreneurial program for youth ages 8-13 to plant, cultivate, and harvest watermelons.  Each child had a row and each was responsible for the business of growing and marketing their product. There was no charge to the student; they were able to keep what they earned.”

Sandra continued, “It was a good way for the kids to learn about farming.  The kids were so enthusiastic.  They had to learn about composting, organics, and all kinds of stuff before planting.  It was a joy to watch them learn and start interacting with others.”

NRCS administers CIGs as a part of the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). CIGs benefit agricultural producers and consumers by providing more options and possibilities for environmental enhancement.  Euneika explained that farmers selected for these demonstrations had to meet eligibility requirements for EQIP that provides financial incentive payments to implement practices that compliment the grant project. 

Sandra had been working with NRCS for some time and had received financial assistance for micro-irrigation, fencing, water troughs, and pipelines through EQIP. 

Steve Musser, ASTC-Programs with NRCS in Auburn, Alabama, said, “I am excited about what is being put on the ground though EQIP. We are using a lot of partnerships like ASAN and SURREF to find landowners who need this type of assistance.  Conservation Innovation Grants are designed for NRCS to evaluate system benefits to land and water resources.  This helps us decide if we will provide financial assistance in future land and water programs.  Today’s demonstration is the fruition of hard work through conservation partners and the local community.”

Euneika said, “The best thing that came out of this project is that Sandra was able to get water to her goats and to plant a crop--a crop that was only put in this year because of the solar energy.  In accessing her need, we considered her existing well that was sitting idle and explored the best way to use it. We consider this demonstration project a resounding success.” 

Solar panels on Simone property.
An NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) helped rural landowner Sandra Simone install solar energy to power a well to water goats and for micro-irrigation under plastic.

Two 1,500 gallon tanks store water from well powered with solar energy.  
A well using solar energy fills these two 1,500 gallon tanks that supplies water by gravity flow to Simone's goats and garden.

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