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Solar Grazing: Ancient Farming Techniques Meet Modern Technology

(Photo: Lambs enjoying some shade. Solar Grazing Site in Baldwin, NY)

At Walden, we're always keeping an eye on the latest farming technology to help us pursue our mission to produce the highest quality, local meat while using sustainable farming practices. One of the most exciting of these recent innovations is Solar Grazing.

While the phrase “Solar Grazing” may conjure an image of cows in space helmets, munching on rays of sunshine in the open pastures of outer space, it’s actually much more down to Earth, i.e. -- it all starts with land. One of the biggest challenges new farmers face is gaining access to affordable tracts of land large enough to run not just a successful business, but also one that benefits the surrounding community and the environment. This is especially difficult in the northeast where land is much more scarce than in the west. Fortunately, there are a few renewable energy companies purchasing land that have run into the problem of how to maintain the fields where their solar panels are collecting sun energy. 

Solar farms, spanning anywhere from twenty to one-thousand acres, are cropping up all over the northeast, providing incredible renewable energy to thousands of homes and businesses. Which we love! However, in order to maximize the amount of sunshine captured in this weather-finicky region, the panels must be kept free of anything that might block the sun’s direct rays, including the natural foliage. So how does a solar farm keep the rapidly growing local greenery from covering the panels? One option is to hire landscapers to come in with industrial-grade lawn mowers that run on gasoline, but that means burning fossil fuels, which kind of defeats the point. So instead, they’ve turned to a much simpler, much cheaper, and much more mutually beneficial solution: lambs!

Why lamb? Turns out they’re the perfect animals for Solar Grazing. Unlike goats, they’ll only eat the greenery (not the solar panels themselves), and unlike twelve-hundred pound cows, if they decide to scratch themselves on the panel, they don’t run the risk of knocking it over and Riverdancing on it with their hooves. No, the mild-tempered lambs wander the pasture, munching away at any greenery that could block the sunlight. The solar farms also keep the animals safe as they are federally required to be fenced, preventing potential predators from attacking the lambs. They also have leases that span decades -- not single years. This helps new farmers start and maintain a healthy business because they don’t have to go through the frustrating process of finding new pastures every single year. Combine that reliability with the security of Walden’s member-based distribution model (where farmers know how many lambs they can sell and at what price months ahead of time), and Solar Grazing farmers can much more easily plan a financially stable and sustainable future.

The Solar Grazing model gives not only power producers and lamb farmers a clear and mutually beneficial relationship, it also benefits us. For one, grass-fed lambs make better meat! They have a broader distribution of healthy fats (more Omega 3s and Omega 6s, fewer saturated), and higher rates of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And unlike mainstream industrial farms, Walden’s partners don’t pump their lambs full of preventative antibiotics or medicated feed that can make their way into our bodies.  

Another great way that Solar Grazing improves our lives is how it helps battle climate change -- beyond helping solar panels produce clean energy. Even though solar energy keeps us from burning new fossil fuels, they don’t actually pull existing excess carbon out of the air. Plants, however, do! Part of photosynthesis is converting CO2 into energy (sugars stored in a plant’s roots). So when lambs are rotated from one pasture to another, the grass they ate can regrow, pulling more CO2 out of the air, and storing that additional carbon in its root system. This very process worked extremely well for thousands of years with the buffalo on the great plains, and now, it’s being used right in our backyards to help restore our planet!

All in all, Solar Grazing is a fantastic new way for Walden and its partners to pursue its mission of delivering healthy food to its members in a sustainable way. While lamb might be new to your everyday diet, we have no doubt that you will love Walden’s grass-fed, sustainable lamb -- local just tastes better! Enjoy!

(Photo: Solar Grazing Site in Baldwin, NY)

(Photo: Cole Trager of Walden Local auditing a Solar Grazing Site in Baldwin, NY)