Goats Go Off the Grid
Operating off the grid is nothing new in the Anderson valley; it’s not unheard of for residents to illuminate their homes at night with candles or who get their drinking water from a spring. The three communities that make up the valley are rural and remote. Many of the roads into the flanking mountains are unpaved, and the nearest city is a 30 minute drive away, on a twisting two-lane mountain highway. Going off the grid with a commercial-scale dairy and creamery is a bit more challenging… as in 220 solar panels challenging.
In the last week that’s how many panels have been installed on the southern- facing roof of the goat barn. What was once a wheat-colored steel roofline is now a field of shiny black solar energy-catching panels. It’s enough to generate 1.5x the projected energy usage of the creamery. It was enough to even stun my nuclear engineer brother who came to visit last week, and he’s not often awed by consumer level power production. Inside the barn the electricians have been up on scaffolding installing the inverters… and vertically inclined animals that they are, the goats have been quick to climb up on the ladders as well!
While the solar company crew has been busy on the roof of the barn, exterior work has proceeded on the creamery as well. The windows have been installed, giving us a clear vision of what the views in and out will be. Windows into rooms that will eventually be enclosed by the sales room expansion are solid tempered glass, while windows that will always face the outside are double hung windows, with the upper portions screened. Federal regulations require that any forced air coming into the creamery must be filtered, however on a still day it is permissible to have open windows. While we hope we have designed our air handling in such a way that we should never need to open windows it is nice to have the option available.
Around the perimeter of the creamery the walkway is being formed. The walkway serves two functions, first it keeps a perimeter around the creamery that can be easily cleaned and is unlikely to harbor pests like rodents and insects which we don’t want infiltrating the creamery. Second, the walkway provides a clear path around the creamery for customers to view the cheese making occurring inside. Because construction will eventually continue off the “face” of the creamery the walkway will be done in two pours. The largest will be a permanent sidewalk around the building and the second will be a temporary one just along the wall where construction will continue. Also being formed in front of the creamery is a handicap-accessible parking space, a state (and Federal) requirement for businesses employing more than just family members.
Inside the creamery, progress continues as well. We accepted a bid from one of our electrical contractors last week and by Monday they had begun installation. Two large fuse boxes have been installed in the vestibule area, and work has begun on running wiring to the raw cheese aging room. Our priority is to finish the electrical in the aging rooms since they will require the most steps to be finished and to expedite the construction process we need to have our crew working simultaneously with the contractors.
Sarah and I spent several hours yesterday reviewing the plans and walking each room of the creamery to review outlet and switch locations with the electricians. Invariably many details had changed between now and when their copy was printed. It is a process that our construction crew has grown to understand (though I think they must cringe internally every time one of us walks in to look at the plans because revisions almost always follow). Thankfully for the moment the electricians seem to be handling it equally as well, like when we told them the switch boxes they had just installed on the inside wall of the aging room would need to be moved to the outside, since aging shelves will ultimately cover the interior wall. We also spent several hours discussing wall mounted shelving units over sinks and work tables, determining lengths and heights and verifying that blocking in the walls was adequate to support their weight. As electrical wiring is completed rigid Styrofoam insulation is beginning to cover the walls and it will become increasingly difficult to add additional blocking if we delay decision making.
As construction proceeds, breeding season is coming to an end. One doe and two ewes remain to be bred. The first animals began cycling during the last week of September, and the majority had been bred by the middle of October. With both sheep and goats having a 5 month gestation period that means the countdown has begun. By the end of March a total of 107 goats and 12 sheep will be producing milk destined for the creamery… fingers crossed we’ll be ready for it!