Big solar array in Dunbarton helps New American farmers

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 03-25-2023 6:48 PM

There’s something different growing at Fresh Start Farm in Dunbarton these days: A whole lot of solar panels.

The ground-mounted array of 378 panels, visible to drivers on Route 13, have been placed on a section of the 53-acre farm unsuitable for crops. As of January, they have been providing electricity for the farm and up to 23 of the New Americans who farm there, as well as the Manchester food hub of the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, which operates the farm.

Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success (ORIS) bought the Story Hill Road farm in 2016 from the Stone family, which had owned and worked the site for two centuries. It is a centerpiece of their program that helps immigrants by giving them plots to grow food for themselves and to sell.

“This is the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project,” said Marta Rardin, assistant operations manager for Fresh Start Farms. “They apply and receive technical assistance, land and training. The idea is that over time they become self-sufficient and can develop their own business so they don’t need our help anymore.”

“They can sell produce at markets throughout the state. They also sell to us at the (food) hub that goes out to our CSA members. That’s a large profit generator for many of the farmers,” she said.

ORIS also has farms in Concord and on a parcel recently obtained in Boscawen.

About half the cost of the 143-kilowatt solar array was covered by a $181,000 grant from the state’s Renewable Energy Fund, according to the group. Donations and grants covered the rest.

The Community Solar program requires that 85% of the energy produced is used by low- and moderate-income residents. “We are providing these energy bill credits to farmers in our training program and other clients and families that we are supporting. The remaining 15% is supporting the power needed on the farm property (powering our well pump, primarily – we do not have any hoop houses using electricity at this time) and for our Food Hub building in downtown Manchester,” wrote Allison Cunningham, associate director of ORIS, in an email response to the Monitor.

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The installation was done by ReVision Energy.

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