When I walked onto the RainFresh Harvests property, I was greeted by lush beds of basil and tomatoes, a friendly staff member tending the plants, and solar PV (photovoltaic) panels atop the roof of Barry Adler’s greenhouse support building. Upon closer inspection, I saw his wind turbine next to the structure and a solar thermal unit on top as well. I joined the group touring the site for Green Energy Ohio’s Fall Tour, and we set out on our journey to learn more about this off-the-grid agricultural supplier’s business.
Barry started his project out by consulting with (and later contracting) Third Sun Solar, based in Athens, Ohio. Since RainFresh Harvests is classified as an agricultural zone and agricultural production building, Barry didn’t have to get any special residential permits to get off the grid. The only requirement was that the building be spaced 25 feet from the property line.
Third Sun Solar and Barry decided that they needed 3,000 Watts of power from the system, but upped the ante to 3,520 Watts so his electronic metering devices would be safe in the event of a power surge. These electronic devices include an inverter, which changes the energy generated by the wind and sun into usable electricity. This conversion takes DC (Direct Current) energy, and transforms it into AC (Alternating Current). AC electricity is what is in our electrical outlets and light switches, because it is the only kind of electricity that can be used by most appliances. Barry’s power meter displays his AC usage, which is stored in twelve 2-Volt batteries, providing a 24-Volt output. These storage batteries last an average of five to ten years, and Barry has been enjoying them problem-free for seven years now. Barry’s usage is 1,600kWh (kilowatt hours) per year, with an estimated 5,000kWh production potential.
The decreasing cost of solar PV was an attractive feature for Barry. He said that in 1974-5, it would have cost him $12 per Watt for the same product that he receives today for $5 per Watt. The 2.1 kW (kilowatt) solar PV panels Barry purchased last 25+ years, and his electrical equipment lasts 25 years. He also has a five-year warranty on his 1 kW wind turbine. He did not mention the life expectancy of his three solar thermal collectors.
RainFresh Harvests provides fresh, organic produce to restaurants around central Ohio. Solar thermal sweetens the deal, because it heats Barry’s greenhouse water with the sun, and he is able to rinse and wash his produce and equipment with a closed-loop system between his solar thermal unit and his hot water tank. Each appliance circulates hot water back and forth to keep them at optimal temperature. The building’s concrete base containing radiant PEX tubing sends heated water through the floors acts as a thermal barrier and helps regulate the temperature of the building.
The passive solar greenhouse itself celebrates an eleven degree Fahrenheit temperature difference from the outdoors. Barry set up Pylar shades that he pulls down as soon as the sun goes down to trap the heat inside and not lose it throughout the night. He pulls them up in the morning to allow the Sun to filter in. He hopes to automate this process soon. He employs wintertime controls to keep his crops growing all year-round. He also heats the air to keep moisture in the water where fish live in aquaponic systems, growing produce in trays on top of the water.
The original intention of RainFresh Harvests was to have a rainwater catchment system, but Barry opted to pursue aquaponics instead. His fish tanks are fed with water from an outdoor pond, and is recycled and cleaned throughout the plant-growing process. With all this fresh, organic produce around, there are sure to be hungry bugs that want a piece of the action! Barry uses a variety of natural predators and biocontrols to safely optimize his yield. He also gets some pretty cool fish in the process as well, and sells them to fishpond owners in central Ohio.
Barry is able to harvest from his outdoor greenhouse almost all year round, thanks to the foam board insulation he added to the foundation. Ventilation in the greenhouse accommodates all seasons. Rosemary, raspberries, more basil, and other plants flourish in Barry’s vermicompost. Neatly manicured rows lead the way between these bountiful garden beds.
RainFresh Harvests is leading the way in sustainable energy and agriculture. Corn containers are used for retail sales and reusable containers house restaurant deliveries. Barry’s 2012 featured crops are: fresh-cut herbs, baby arugula and other baby greens, red raspberries, blackberries, Asian pears, heirloom tomatoes and peppers, as well as ornamental Koi and Mosquito fish for ponds. Email Barry Adler or give him a call at (614) 738-9559 for more information, and be sure to check out RainFresh Harvests online!