Three Exciting, Money-Making Opportunities For Small Farms

Three Exciting, Money-Making Opportunities For Small Farms

It’s no secret that running a farm is hard work. It a very physical job that involves long hours working in both good and inclement weather conditions. From tending to crops to feeding cattle, countless tasks need to be completed each day. Despite what many may think, the pay that farmers receive does not always reflect the hard work they put in. This can leave many of them feeling under appreciated and tempted to try a different career instead. However, there are ways that even the smallest of farms can maximize their profits. So to keep the lifestyle you adore and to make more money from your farm, consider these exciting ideas.

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Keeping A Modern Farm Eco-Efficient Isn't Difficult If You Know How

Keeping A Modern Farm Eco-Efficient Isn't Difficult If You Know How

Is running a farm that has a high eco-efficiency  level a massive challenge? You might not think so, but many farmers would disagree. They are under the impression that keeping their farm green and making it efficient is a steep slope to climb. Is it really, though? Of course not. In fact, we would argue that as long as you know the right steps to take, going green is easy. We are living in an age where farms are more intensive than ever. A lot of the processes are not completed by machines. But even with that machinery, it’s possible to keep your farm eco friendly.

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Week-Long Workshops Planned Next Week For G4G Revival Tour: Outdoor Compost Toilets, Rainwater Showers, And Green Building Galore June 27-July 3

The amenities station that will be installed next to the Art Barn at Better Farm.

The amenities station that will be installed next to the Art Barn at Better Farm.

Better Farm welcomes Grateful 4 Grace from June 27-July 3 for a week of green-building projects, team-building and workshops.

Grateful 4 Grace is a non-profit group traveling all over the country to offer helping hands on projects that further a sustainable mission. From their website:

Combining our love for humanity and the love we have for our planet, we have set out to help others help others become more consciously sustainable. With the universe as our guide we plan to gather in effort to grow our sustainable-minded collective consciousness that will produce what we consider to be a balanced environment that all species can live harmoniously with. To accomplish this we are traveling across the world helping intentional communities and organizations that are currently helping with similar causes become self-sustainable. 

Twenty people from Grateful 4 Grace will be staying at Better Farm to help us construct an amenities station next to the Art Barn with compost toilets and solar showers fed by rainwater.  We will additionally be constructing a smaller version of the amenities station next to our new solar-powered tiny home, greywater filtration units, and working on other farm-related projects throughout the week.

The public is invited to help us on this project and gain valuable hands-on experience in construction, green building, sustainability, and alt-energy concepts. To sign up, just email info@betterfarm.org. Lunch and refreshments will be provided!

Volunteers are welcome to join us from Tuesday, June 28, through Saturday, July 2, at Better Farm between the hours of 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Let There Be (Solar) Light

Better Farm hosted its first-ever solar workshop on Sunday, covering the basics of how solar energy works, introducing basic hardware for setting up your own solar kit (including information on inverters, wires, panels, and more), hands-on experience actually installing a kit on Better Farm's Tiny Home, and take-home packets so students could have reference for DIY'ing their own solar setup on any small cabin, shed, work room, studio, apartment or barn.

The workshop was taught by Allen Briggs, who has lived off-grid for years and has extensive experience wiring and installing solar and other off-grid systems.

Short History Of Solar Cell And Direct-Current Systems

The first commercial use and development of a solar panel was by Bell Telephone in 1954. However, DC systems have been used since the mid-1920s in rural areas of the US. Most were powered by wind generators.

How Does A Solar Panel Work?

In short, a solar panel is a silicon and wire lattice encased in glass that allows photons from the sun to react with electrons in the silicon. Silicon is made up of positive and negative electrons that move freely throughout the migration hole the wire lattice provides. When the photons react with the silicon, the electrons become excited and start moving repeatedly in the panel. At the same time, the positive and negative repel away from each other. This process creates electricity, which is funneled out through wires at the bottom of the solar panel and lead to a storage battery.

A Basic Solar System

First, we start with the solar panel, the wires from the panel connected to a charge controller. From there, we connect to the battery. Wires also branch off from teh battery and connect to an inverter and system monitor.

Setting Up The Solar Array

Solar panels should be set up facing south, so the panels get sun the whole day. Most solar panels are angled from 32 to 52 degrees in order to collect the maximum amount of sunlight.

For full instructions, click here.

Tiny Home Construction Workshop Part I: Aug. 8-9

Tiny Home Construction Workshop Part I: Aug. 8-9

Have you been daydreaming about having your very own tiny home, but aren't sure where to start? Learn all about materials, construction, different alt-energy systems and much more at Better Farm's Tiny Home Construction Workshop Part I during two days, Aug. 8 and 9.

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Heating the Home with Renewable Resources

In the United States, energy use accounts for 82 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. Fracking for shale gas brings with it a host of environmental concerns (shale gas is expected to comprise 50 percent of all natural gas produced in the U.S. by 2035, by the way), while our continued reliance on coal and oil are killing the planet (if you want to ruin your day, check out this ever-timely article by Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone). But there are renewable resources we could be tapping into in order to heat our homes this winter.

To get Better Farm off its fuel-oil furnace, we're now sporting a wood stove (utilizing standing-dead trees on the property and logs from a woodlot three miles away) and pellet stove. We of course realize these options aren't available to everyone. So depending on where you live and what's available to you, consider looking into one of these options for producing heat in your home this year.

Geothermal
Image from Canadian Geothermal.
Geothermal solutions are prized for their efficiency. These all-in-one 'forced-air' or 'water-to-air' systems can provide comfort to your home more efficiently than any other type of ordinary system. Put simply, geothermal is a method for heating and cooling a structure using the constant ground temperature. In reality the Earth is the world’s largest solar collector and at depths of roughly 5 feet below grade the Earth has stored enough energy to maintain about a 50 degree temperature ( in our area of Pennsylvania) year round. Geothermal heating and cooling utilizes a ‘ground source’ heat pump to either extract heat from the ground during the winter or reject heat into the ground during the summer. While the geothermal setup will pull additional electric, a solar kit can change all that. (Western Pennsylvania Geothermal Heating and Cooling, Inc.)

Solar-Powered Heat Pump
Image from Accent Comfort Services.
Modern ductless, mini-split air source heat pumps (ASHPs) run 2-3x as efficiently as traditional 'resistive' electric heat, making the cost to run the units equivalent to buying oil at $1.68/gallon.
Simultaneously, they provide air conditioning using half the energy as traditional window or central air conditioning systems. Best yet—by installing a solar electric array to power the electric consumption of the heat pumps, you effectively have a solar space-heating system. Your solar array will generate credits in the summertime (when it is sunniest) which allow you to run the heat pumps in the wintertime (when it is coldest). Your system will effortlessly generate all the 'fuel' it ever needs from clean, abundant sunshine! (From ReVision Energy)

Pellet Stoves
The new pellet stove coming soon to Better Farm's library.
For those who like wood stoves but don't love handling firewood and tending the fire, pellet stoves are great options and utilize totally renewable resources. Pellets for these stoves are made from  compressed wood byproducts and other biomass. The appliances vary from designs that are lit manually, with heat output controlled directly by the homeowner using a dial or buttons, to those units that ignite electrically, with pellet supply and heat output controlled automatically by a wall-mounted thermostat. Wood pellets produce almost no net climate-changing carbon dioxide if they are used as fuel — although some fossil fuels typically are used in the manufacture and transportation of pellets. The technology for modern residential pellet heating systems was invented back in 1983. This technology is now reliable, mature, and effective. The main question left to answer is whether the pellet lifestyle makes sense for you. And to answer this question you need a glimpse inside the process. (Mother Earth News)

Wood Heat
Wood is a totally renewable resource. If you live on a lot of property, there are seemingly endless reserves of standing-dead trees that can be harvested in a responsible way. We scored more than eight cords this year by doing responsible tree-felling in the woods at Better Farm alone, and there is plenty more where that came from. A few wood heat facts:
  • Wood-burning stoves are better in environmental terms as the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is the same as that absorbed by the tree during growth.
  • Trees are a renewable resource (particularly when derived from plantations and cultivated woodland; or in our case, when you plant new trees and only cut down standing-dead ones). 
  • Wood ashes can be used very successfully in the vegetable garden (except in the area where you plan to grow potatoes). Mix the ash thoroughly with your soil. Tomatoes seem to benefit especially from soil that has been mixed with a small quantity of wood ash.
  • Nothing is cozier than sitting around inside on a frigid day in front of a toasty-warm wood stove. Nothing.

Care to share your methods of alternative heat? Email info@betterfarm.org.

DIY Soda Can Solar Heater

Soda can solar heater, image from Hemmings Daily.
If you're looking for something to do as the temperatures drop away, why not give this passive solar soda can heater a try? All you'll need is some black spray paint, a bunch of empty aluminum cans, some 2x4s, and a few basic tools.

The solar soda can heater works by bringing in cool air from your home, garage, or shop through an intake hose at the bottom of the unit. Air rises through the system, which is warm from absorbing sunlight. Air comes out the top and back inside through the outtake hose—some bloggers are reporting at as much as 120 degrees hotter than when it entered!

We found a few variations on the design from Hemmings Daily, Fair Companies and Instructables. Here's the basic gist; write to us with your variations and photos on the project! And yes, it works: There's even a Canadian company, Cansolair, Inc., selling the things.


Materials
  • 240 aluminum cans
  • 3 - 8 ft. 2x4s
  • 4 ft. x 8 ft. x 1/2 in. sheet of plywood
  • High-temperature silicon
  • 4 ft. x 8 ft. sheet of Plexiglas or Lexan
  • A can of heat-resistant flat black spray paint.
  • Plastic tubing
  • Drill Press with wide drill bits
  • Screws
  • Optional Air Blower (consider a solar-powered unit)
Instructions
  1. Construct a wooden frame out the the 2x4s, approx. 4 ft. wide x 8 ft. high x 3 1/2 in. deep. 
  2. Cut a piece of plywood this size and nail it to the back of the frame.
  3. Drill a hole in the top center of the frame - this is where you'll connect your outlet hose.
  4. Drill a hole in the bottom of the frame - this is where your inlet hose will be connected.
  5. Drill large holes in the tops and bottoms from all the cans except for 16 which will be on the bottom row.  For those, drill the holes in the tops and sides.  Caution! Aluminum cans are sharp - use heavy work gloves or other means to hold them in place as you cut the holes out.
  6. Start placing your cans into the frame.  Create 16 columns of 15 cans each.  Stack them one at at time, sealing them together as you go along.  Make sure the ones with side holes are on the bottom row.  Allow the silicone sealant to cure.
  7. Spray the cans and frame with the heat-resistant flat black paint.
  8. Cover the frame with the sheet of Plexiglas or Lexan.
  9. Cut holes in the side of the building that line up with holes in the top and bottom of the solar panel.  Air will be drawn from the building through the lower hole, which should be just above floor level, and be returned through the upper hole.
  10. Mount the completed panel on the exterior wall of the home.  Alternatively, you might mount the panel in a separate frame that will allow it to be tilted more toward the sun for better exposure.
  11. Install the blower at either the inlet or outlet.  This is not essential, but will increase the efficiency of your solar heater.
This unit allows air to flow all around the cans as it moves through the panel. A more efficient design will force all the air through the inside of the cans.  This will also avoid exposure of the air to the black paint.



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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Do These DIYs: Cooling the Home with Less Energy

Stills from the 1959 Twilight Zone episode "Midnight Sun".
As the thermometer dial climbs in the North Country this summer, we can only imagine what you city dwellers downstate and across the country are dealing with. But instead of automatically flicking on the AC the next time temperatures hit 80, consider using one of these easy DIY tricks instead—and save the big guns for the next extreme heat wave.

Homemade AC Designs
The folks over at the Good Survivalist have come up with a genius way to make a $454 air conditioner for about $15. Keeping your home cool in the summer can be very expensive if you use your air conditioner. This air conditioner is very simple to make, and can be made in a few minutes if your are handy.

Even if you are not handy you’ll be able to make one of these DIY air conditioners. One of the nice things about this air conditioner is that it will give you up to 6 hours of coolness. This thing works so well you may need to put on a sweatshirt! To make one of these babies you need a few simple tools, a couple of 5 gallon buckets, along with a few other items. Everything is shown in the video:


The crew at Snapguide has an alternative design, this one using a Styrofoam cooler:
Here's a great list of great, cooling life hacks anyone can do at home or work as alternatives to actual air conditioners, as gleaned from Life Hacker:
  • Create a Makeshift Air Conditioner—If you don't have an air conditioner, hopefully you have a fan. On its own, however, a fan isn't always sufficiently cooling. If your home is a hot air trap, blowing that hot air around isn't going to help much. Instead of just running the fan and hoping for the best, take a shallow bowl and fill it with ice. Place the bowl in front of the fan and as the ice evaporates, it will cool the air. 
  • Cool Your Drapes—If it isn't hotter outside than it is in your home, you've probably cracked a window already to at least cool things down a little bit. If you're finding an open window isn't sufficient, spray a sheet with cold water and use it to cover the window's opening. As the breeze passes through, the cold and damp sheet will cool it bringing in chilled air and further helping to reduce the temperature in your home. 
  • Schedule Your Windows—If all you have are windows to work with, you can still use them to your advantage. While the difference is more significant in arid environments, the temperature outdoors cools at night, and that's the air you want to let into your home. If you keep your windows closed while the sun is up and open them while the sun is down, you can trap the cooler air in your home and keep the temperature a few degrees lower. Even better: Set up a couple of inexpensive box fans in windows on opposite sides of a room to create a nice through-breeze. 
  • Do Nothing—Much of the heat in your home comes from heat-generating sources within it. If you avoid generating large amounts of heat you won't have as much of a need to cool. Things like air drying your clothes, skipping the dry cycle on your dishwasher, and turning off your computer(s) when they aren't in use are all good ways to keep the temperature down.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Space Heater that Uses Zero Energy

Image from Our Life Fresh.
In many older homes, supplemental heat is an ongoing issue. While you work to retroactively replace insulation, upgrade wood stoves, pellet stoves, or furnaces and make your place more efficient, a space heater is a great way to boost heat where you need it most. The only problem? A lot of them are energy hogs, driving up electric costs quick. So it was a great surprise to stumble on this video outlining how four tea lights can warm an entire room in your house!


If you're set on going electric, please be sure to check out this list of the most energy-efficient space heaters on the market.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Green Tech Files: Will Future Roadways Glow in the Dark?

A bike path in Cambridge, England glows with a brilliant blue. (Photo: Pro-Teq/Youtube)
There's been a lot of buzz around environmentally friendly street and path lighting, with solar energy leading the way for  energy-efficient streetlamps, stop sign illumination, and more; but now there's a new buzz about glow-in-the-dark pavement providing light that won't mess with wildlife, uses zero energy, and looks really cool while it's working.



Here's all the information, gleaned from Take Part.

Editor's note: For more information and video footage, be sure to visit Take Part's fully story.
 
Keeping parks well lit at night can be a costly means to ensure pedestrian and cyclist safety. But a British-based company has come up with a way to turn park paths into glow-in-the-dark thoroughfares that double as energy-efficient works of art.
Created by Pro-Teq, Starpath is a sprayable coating of light-absorbing particles that harvests ultra-violet rays from the sun during the day and dramatically lights up like a starry sky at night. The veneer is non-reflective, anti-slip and waterproof, and can be applied to cement, wood, tarmac or other solid surfaces.

Earlier this month, Starpath was tested on all 1,600 square-feet of the paths at Christ’s Pieces Park, in the university town of Cambridge. The park is well trafficked late into the evening by cyclist and pedestrians alike.

"Our surface works best over tarmac or concrete, predominantly tarmac, which is the main bulk of the U.K. path network," says Pro-Teq’s Neil Blackmore, in a sales video. "When it's coming to the end of its useful life, we can rejuvenate it with our system, creating not only a practical, but a decorative finish."

Seeing that local city councils were increasingly shutting off park lights at night to save money, Pro-Teq developed Starpath to maintain public safety without the financial and environmental costs of overhead lighting. It's a common problem; in the U.S. for instance, cities generally count streetlights as their first or second biggest energy drains.

But the glow-in-the-dark spray also comes with additional benefits: Its non-reflective surface doesn't seem to contribute to light pollution, which not only inhibits views of the nighttime sky, but can have dire consequences for local wildlife due to the constant illumination.

Overhead street lighting does provide one important benefit to urban parks, however, and that's the deterrence of crime. It's not yet known if Starpath would provide enough light to do the same.
Pro-Teq's Neil Blackmore says that for larger urban parks where the possibility of crime is higher, his technology could be used in conjunction with overhead lighting, if not replacing street lights completely, then cutting down on the number of them necessary to illuminate darkened areas.

"I was in London today looking at a large park for Starpath," he says. "And there's lights down by the river, but in the back of the park, there's no lighting at all. So having our product there, in the complete darkness, would only benefit the user."

Pro-Teq’s demonstration project in Cambridge is tiny, though, compared to a glow-in-the-dark technology being rolled out across the English Channel.

The Netherlands began its "smart highway" redesign this year with the promise of using super-charged glow-in-the-dark paint to illuminate highways during the country's long, dark winters. Not only will the paint light up to define the road and its lanes, but when the temperature drops below freezing, a bright snowflake design appears on the asphalt, warning drivers about the possibility of black ice.

As innovative and environmentally-friendly as the Netherlands' design is, though, Pro-Teq's Starpath may have bested it in terms of pure aesthetics. The starry spray is dramatic and not only lights up to a brilliant blue (as seen in the video above), but is also available in other sparkling colors, like red, gold and green.

Whether its application could extend to some roadways remains to be seen, but at least for now, Starpath looks like an energy-efficient way to light up parks while simultaneously turning them into eye-catching art displays.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Build a 14x14 Cabin for < $2k


photo credit simplesolarhomesteading.com

From The Homestead Survival

Below is a nice video showing how the folks over at Simple Solar Homesteading built a 14′ x14′ cabin for less than $2,000 (for the full schematics, click here). Following that video is one discussing solar and wind installation. The last link is to all the builder's videos. If you are thinking of going off grid, looking to build a cabin or just interested in that lifestyle, his videos are really interesting and informative to watch.




 See all Simple Solar Homesteading's videos by clicking here.


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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

DIY Mosquito Control (and Residual Chicken Feed)


We know, we know. It's a little early to be thinking of mosquito season, right? But if you get this  mosquito-catching system organized before the snow thaws, you'll be ready to harvest some great treats for your chickens (or frogs) the second the skeeters wake up. Watch the video above for a great design plan (we like the solar option best) that will allow you to catch thousands and thousands of would-be pests.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Hobbit House: Planning

 
A few people have approached us lately to suggest a group hobbit-house construction project at Better Farm. Who are we to argue? These amazing little structures are right on our wavelength for their alternative properties, potential use of green materials, and unusual style.

We had an informal meeting yesterday to scope out the grounds at Better Farm to find an appropriate hillside into which our hobbit house could go. To start out, it was important to consider the style we might want. I found a proverbial goldmine of ideas over at Webcoist:








 





 






Here are some possible locations we liked at Better Farm:

Utilizing the old barn foundation, we could construct our hobbit house and put dirt over the top.
A lovely hillside behind the Art Barn.

And here's our ideas list so far:
  • Get a work day together in the next week or two to pull useable scraps together and ready them for upcycling
  • Secure a source for lime mortar to be used on our walls
  • Get dimensions together for the structure, secure enough tires to build an earthship structure
  • Secure old barn wood for the interior ceiling
  • Utilize a strong roof appropriate for dirt and foliage cover
Want to volunteer on this or other projects at Better Farm? Contact us at info@betterfarm.org.
1 Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.