The Low-Carb Farm

J. Beller

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Solar panels, biodiesel tractors, and a green renovation of the farm's "Old House" are all helping Appleton Farms lower its carbon footprint, while expanding its impact on the public.

Learn more about the "Old House" renovation.

At Appleton Farms in Hamilton and Ipswich, an ambitious plan to become carbon-neutral is seeing astonishing results. No calorie counting is required, but carbon counting is welcome.

While farming might seem to be the ultimate earth-friendly activity, it can be extremely damaging to the atmosphere, especially in the intensive form so common today. Fertilizer use, livestock production, and food distribution emit greenhouse gases including carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide, making farming a leading contributor to climate change.

Around the world, awareness is growing about this link, and farmers are experimenting with projects aimed at carbon neutrality – storing or offsetting as much
carbon as you emit. Established in 1636, Appleton Farms has a long history of agricultural innovation. Today, the farm is once again on the cutting edge, and its success so far has the potential to impact farming in New England and beyond.

With the help of grants and private donations, the farm has made changes that have cut its carbon footprint from 380 metric tons to 184. “If all goes well, we could be carbon neutral by the end of 2011,” says Wayne Castonguay, who oversees The Trustees’ farm programs statewide.

That progress has occurred in less than two years, partly thanks to “green” substitutes for conventional farm machinery, like a solar hot water heater for the dairy barn, use of biodiesel in most equipment, and an electric ATV for getting around on the farm. Other new additions are more ingenious: for instance, a system that collects and reuses heat from the farm’s cows. But the biggest bang for the buck, says Castonguay, comes from making old systems better: “You hear this over and over again, but the best thing you can do is invest in energy efficiency. That really hit home when we conducted our energy audit and calculated the carbon we could save – it’s something so simple. Anyone can do it for their own home.”

Everything-old-is-new-again guides the farm’s touchstone project, too: a major retrofit of the farm’s 4,700-square-foot “Old House,” part of which dates to 1794. When complete, the building will house the new Center for Agriculture and the Environment, a hands-on welcome and research center for visitors, conservationists, and farmers.

Castonguay says the gold LEED-certified facility will provide “one-stop shopping” for sustainability, energy conservation, agriculture, and farm land protection. The project is designed to be a scalable template for other farms and homes. “Visitors can see and touch real-world solutions,” he says. “These are not wild, unreachable things.”

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