Rural Nerds: Primer Built the Leaders of a Movement

In the next-to-last post from our Top 10 Rural Research Reports countdown, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Today's Throwback Thursday (#tbt) report showed how practical on-farm research should be done. And in the doing, it planted leadership seeds of the national sustainable agriculture movement.

#2 Small Farm Energy Primer: An Energy Saving Tool to Assist Small Farmers

by the Center’s Small Farm Energy Project, 1980

The Center’s groundbreaking work in practical on-farm research began in 1976 with the Small Farm Energy Project. This 3-year research and demonstration effort involved 48 cooperating farms. Half agreed to innovate with alternative energy projects on their farms; half pledged not to. Both groups kept detailed records.

The project showed how small commercial farmers could reduce purchased energy inputs and improve net farm income by using alternative energy technologies. It taught people that despite world events, they could control a portion of their businesses and their lives. The process of learning, doing, and public demonstrations formed leaders who helped build the national sustainable agriculture movement.

Key Findings

  • Farmers built energy innovations using locally available materials that were low-cost, easy to maintain, and applicable to a variety of farm energy needs. Projects included solar, wood, wind and alcohol energy, heat exchange, and composting.
  • Farmers who used innovative technologies and conservation consumed 13% less energy than the matched group that did not, and spent 17% less money on energy while maintaining production levels.
  • Although solar devices received the most publicity, simple energy conservation devices and practices resulted in most of the energy savings by the cooperating group.

Download the Small Farm Energy Primer here.