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Energy conservation blooms on Cape Cod

Conservation Showcase

Rebecca Perry | Sabatia Flower Farm | Marstons Mills, Massachusetts

Steve Spear of NRCS chats with Rebecca Perry in her greenhouse.In the cold of December, when most Massachusetts farmers are done for the season, Rebecca Perry is just beginning to plant her crop of lilies at Sabatia Flower Farm in Marstons Mills on Cape Cod. In a 5,000 square foot heated greenhouse, she grows some 22,000 oriental lilies between December and November each year. And along with the delicate flowers come some hefty energy bills.

“We grow oriental lilies in crates for sale wholesale to florists and retail at our garden carts,” explained Perry.

“We heat this house all winter; we keep it at 65 degrees. We're using a significant amount of gas and have some good expensive bills, which we're hoping to get reduced.”

That’s where the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) comes in. Steve Spear, Soil Conservationist in NRCS’ West Yarmouth field office provided technical help and information about financial assistance.

“The particular project here was the installation of radiant floor heating in a greenhouse to save dollars and to save fuel. And, of course, it also improves the carbon footprint of the greenhouse. It uses less energy but provides the plants what they need,” said Spear.

The radiant heating system at Sabatia Flower Farm.“NRCS has helped me with several different things, most notably to upgrade this greenhouse from overhead forced hot air heat to radiant heat -- called root zone heat -- that is in the floor of this house,” said Perry. “By heating the root zone of these lily crates, we can reduce the air temperature by about 15 degrees. That will save a significant amount of natural gas by putting the heat in the floor and heating the zone, the actual dirt, around the base of these plants.”

Perry explained that they also installed a 90 percent efficiency furnace. “By reducing the air temperature with a super-efficient furnace and lots of square footage of tubing in the floor, we're expecting that it's going to save us a fair amount of money.”

The energy conservation and efficiency improvements were made with financial assistance from the federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

“Initially, we had to do an energy audit. They looked at all of our old bills, saw how much gas we had used, how much electricity we'd used, and took pictures of all the equipment that we have” said Perry, adding that the audit analyzed the BTUs of the heaters and the wattage of the lights. “They did a very comprehensive analysis of our energy use.”

Oriental lilies are watered with drip irrigation and radiant heat warms the root zone.Perry is hopeful that the root zone heat will also benefit her business on the production side. “I'm really hoping that instead of having a plant with two buds on it, we'll get a third bud. Every one of those buds earns us just a little bit more money. Instead of having them take a hundred days, maybe they'll only take 85 days to grow.”

“This is why a lot of us do this work,” said Spear. “We get to work with good people, we get to make a difference, make some improvements, one parcel of land at a time. When we're finished and we're successful, it feels good.”

“NRCS was a natural fit for me. Steve's been a really big, big help and encouraged me right along,” said Perry.

"They've made it so easy. They're helping us to be better farmers.”

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