Backyard Orchard News
An 80-panel solar array is being installed at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center to provide clean, green energy to the F. Gordon Mitchell Postharvest Laboratory, the sensory laboratory and a plant and sample handling lab. Initially, the array will generate 22.4 kilowatts of electricity per hour, a supply expected to cut the center's energy expenditures by $5,400 per year.
"We have a significant amount of electrically intensive equipment in the post harvest laboratory," said Robert Ray, superintendent of the physical plant at Kearney and coordinator of the project. "The laboratory includes a washer-waxer, fruit sizer, reach-in refrigeration boxes and sub-zero refrigeration units, among other equipment. The three facilities consume about 260,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year."
Development of the solar farm is being supported by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources with a $100,000 allocation. Installation of the ground-mounted panels by JKB Energy of Turlock is expected to begin in early May.
"This is our first step toward developing renewable energy sources at the research and extension centers," said Luzanne Martin, a project manager for the nine-center system that stretches from Desert Research and Extension Center, near the border with Mexico, to the Intermountain Research and Extension Center, just south of Oregon. "We hope it will be a model project. When we see the savings we will try to look for renewable-energy options at our other centers and expand the array at Kearney."
Kearney facility and field staff are preparing a 140-by-25-foot area north of the post harvest laboratory and east of the sensory lab by leveling the land, pulling out alfalfa and installing underground conduits.
Ray said the solar farm will be expanded when funds become available to generate 78 kilowatts per hour, the maximum offset for the post harvest meter based on limits set by the Public Utilities Commission. In the future, solar arrays could also be built to provide the electrical needs of other Kearney facilities.
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Crowds of people, young and old, were waiting eagerly at the entry gate well before the start time of 10 a.m. Teamed with our fellow UCCE/Los Angeles County Master Gardeners—and located between the booths of Engineers Without Borders, OrangUtan Republik Foundation, and across from Friends of the Los Angeles River, we shared a table and white canopied booth and stayed busy, non-stop till 2pm, talking to people about their gardens and the art of food preservation. In all nearly 2200 people came through the Earth Day Festival and at least 500 of them stopped at our booth.
We also showed off jars of waterbath processed jams and marmalades, and pressure canned chicken and squash, which gave us a chance to explain how many methods of food preservation are available to the home preserver, along with tips for food safety practices.
More than one person said "My mom or my grandma used to can everything but I never learned how to do it." We explained that our role as MFPs was to offer our services as volunteer instructors to teach them how to do it themselves. We asked them to bring word back to their organizations and let them know to call us if they wanted free lessons.
Attached to the veggie packets we stapled MFP cards so that people would connect the idea of growing, harvesting then preserving their veggies and herbs knowing they could contact us for the know-how.
Families were out in force and many of the little ones were carrying around small plant pots that they had decorated at a special booth. Each pot contained a seed...some were given watermelon seeds, some had sunflowers, and of course we reminded them that these plants would need a lot more room than the cute pots they carried and should be transplanted as soon as they’re big enough.
Different kinds of saplings were distributed by various agencies, and people were carrying them around the festival grounds, looking just a little bit like Johnny Appleseed carting his apple trees across the country.
By the time the day ended, our seed supply had nearly been cleaned out, we'd talked to many hundreds of people about food preservation, and we felt we’d had a very successful day.