Energy efficiency is a huge topic in modern agriculture. Today, farms strive to becoming as efficient as possible which in return not only helps the farm but also the farmer. Many family farms in Western North Carolina are becoming more energy efficient by installing solar systems instead of receiving their energy straight from the power company. A perfect example of a farm that has made the switch to being more self-sustaining is Gather Heritage Farm in Barnardsville, NC. Frank Ritz, owner and operator of Gather Heritage Farm, is a retired United States Army veteran. During Ritz’s time in the army, he served as a physician’s assistant. Ritz also has a Master’s degree in Agriculture Education. Today, Ritz farms with his family and loves every second of it. “It’s great to be able to spend this kind of time with your family, doing what you love,” said Ritz. “It’s even better when you get to pass this knowledge on to others.”
Ritz had the desire to transform his family farm into something more energy efficient due to the expense of traditional energy. In 2016, Ritz received a $6,000 TVA Energy for Farms Grant from Southwestern NC RC&D Council to install a net metered solar system on the farm. “This solar system has helped us so much in our daily activities on the farm,” said Ritz. “We use the energy we produce to power everything inside our barn, which includes lights throughout the barn, brood lights for our chickens, various tools, and the electric fence that surrounds the property.” This is a 9 array (panel) system that produces about 2-3 KWH (kilowatt hours) per day. It also produces 248 volts, even on an overcast day. “There are so many things out there to make farms more cost effective,” said Ritz. “Our power bill is now 40-50% less than last year’s bills, which is a huge improvement!”
Because of Ritz’s time spent in the army, he has established a desire to help local veterans. Gather Heritage Farm is recognized by the state of North Carolina as offering apprenticeships for veterans who have a desire to farm. Ritz is also associated with the Farmer Veteran Coalition in California. This organization’s goal is to help veterans find jobs in their area who are interested in agriculture. “In the past, I employed a veteran to come and work here at Gather,” said Ritz. “Today, he is the owner and operator of his own local cattle ranch which is a great success story.” In the future, Ritz would like to be able to have veterans come out to the farm and work with the horses. “Working with any type of animal is great for mental health,” said Ritz. “By working closely with the horses, these veterans would have the responsibility of jobs, and it would also allow them to build bonds with these animals and strengthen their mental health.”
To learn more about Gather Heritage Farm, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/gatherfarm.