TERRA ALTA — A Preston County farm was one stop out of 700 locations across the country to take part in the National Solar Tour in October, hosted by the Solar United Neighbors and American Solar Energy.
The tour brings together solar supporters, home and business owners and community members together to celebrate and help grow solar in their communities.
Possum Tail Farm, located a couple of miles outside Terra Alta, was open to the public to educate others about the advantages of using solar energy, not only in agriculture, but also within their home.
“Today, we are showing people what a solar system looks like and what it took to install it,” said Jennifer Kahly, who owns and operates the farm with her husband, Brian. “We are really interested in also talking to farmers, because we participated in a really unique program just for farmers to offset the cost of the solar panel installation. So we really want to share that information.”
The National Solar Tour is the “largest grassroots solar, renewable energy and sustainable living event in the nation,” according to its website. A collection of solar open houses and local solar tours around the country occurred over the weekend of Oct. 6-7, with other tours taking place on the surrounding weekends.
“We had a representative here from Mountain View Solar, the company who did our installation,” Kahly said. “We probably had 30 people for the earlier tour, and maybe around a total of 50 for the day. We really had no idea what to expect, so we are really excited about the turnout.”
The Kahlys began the tour by speaking with visitors about their own 18-kilowatt solar installation and the benefit of solar energy production.
Seeking information about solar energy, Anne and Scott Davidson, who own a lavender farm in Maryland, were present for both the solar and the farm tours.
“We own a lavender farm in Accident called the Deep Creek Lavender Farm,” Anne Davidson said. We only grow one crop, so we are more of an ‘agri-tourism’ business, and cater mostly to the Deep Creek Lake crowd.”
The Davidsons said they had talked about whether solar would be a good addition to their farm and attended the event to find out more information.
“They (Kahlys) have a larger system than we would need, but I think any time you can use the resources that are free, like the sun, and use it to convert to energy on your farm, it’s a win-win,” Anne Davidson said. “We started with the solar information, and I think it is interesting. The sun is a free resource — let’s use it.”
Brian Kahly pointed out the difference in theory behind high and low elevation regarding solar energy production.
“The elevation of our farm is 2,600 feet, which doesn’t necessarily affect energy production, but I think at a lower elevation, you have less cloud cover,” Brian Kahly said. “Because of the mountains, we are getting cloudier days, which impacts our solar production. … Higher elevations could get you bigger solar productions. However, we have a lot of cloudy days blocking the sun.”
During the farm tours, the Kahlys gave some of the history of the farm, along with how they run things daily.
“My grandparents bought this farm in the late 1930s, and so the house and the old barn were already there when I purchased it,” Brian Kahly said. “When I was in high school, we started raising beef cattle with my grandfather and making hay around the farm. But after I went to college and got a job, my grandparents were getting older and didn’t want to farm anymore.”
According to Brian Kahly, after having a third party run the farm for 15 years, he decided to buy it.
“I bought the farm not really knowing what I wanted to do with it, but we wanted to keep it in the family,” he added. “I had a computer job in Pennsylvania, and at the time, I didn’t know if it (farming) was a viable livelihood — I thought we could do it for fun when I retire, that was my initial plan.”
“Enter me,” Jennifer Kahly said. “He likes to plan everything, and he had asked me where I imagined I would be 30 years from now. … I said, ‘I want to be on your farm. It’s such an amazing place.’ So we read some books, and then we moved to the farm.”
“I quit my software job, and I started farming,” Brian Kahly said. “We had kids, and started renovating the house; we gutted it completely. We probably took on more projects than we should have, but we are still here.”
Jennifer Kahly has a garden in one of their fields and grows food for her family.
“We have multiple plantings for different things. We grow our own veggies and some other plants like berries,” Kahly said. “The garden is something that really matters to me, and I mostly take care of it.”
The Kahly farm obtained their Certified Naturally Grown status in 2012, and currently raise and sell CNG livestock.
“We have store appointments available for people wanting to purchase our products, so if they want to come and shop, they can call us up,” Jennifer Kahly said. “We will meet them here. Then they pick the things they want. We ring them up, and they are on their way.”
For more information on Possum Tail Farm, visit www.possumtailfarm.com.