Sign up for News & Updates

Sustainable Energy at Inn Serendipity

By Bill Ladd-Cawthorne

John and Lisa bought their 5-acre farm 19 years ago for $123,000. Before that, they were working for an advertising agency in downtown Chicago. They taught themselves to farm using books from the Rodale Institute and other resources, and by the fifth year they were selling vegetables for a profit. Their original goal was to be fossil fuel–free, and they are almost there except for a few small tools like a gas-powered rototiller and a chainsaw.  In the meantime, they have managed to become carbon-negative (as opposed to carbon-neutral).  Much of this is achieved through the natural carbon sequestration of photosynthesis on their land, but they also minimize their carbon emissions by means of a variety of renewable energy systems. 

The single biggest man-made energy producer on the farm is a 120 foot tall wind turbine that produces 10,000 kilowatt-hours of power per year. Thirteen years ago, this turbine cost Inn Serendipity $16,000 after various credits, grants, and in-kind labor.  John says that wind power is no longer the most cost-effective way to generate electricity renewably—now solar power is the way to go.  It so happens that Inn Serendipity also has a grid-tied array of photovoltaic solar panels, which produces another 2,000 kWh of power.  Between these two sources, Inn Serendipity uses less power than they generate, and 3,000 kWh is sold to the electric company each year.

In addition to these grid-tied systems, Inn Serendipity also has a solar oven (they bake all their bread in the summer when the oven is hot, freezing it for winter eating) and a small electric car, which is charged using power from another photovoltaic system. Also, much of their heat is provided by a solar-thermal system, which uses solar energy collector panels to heat propylene glycol, which is circulated through a copper coil in a storage tank of water. 

All of this renewable energy technology and the permaculture farm philosophy of which it is a part are good for the environment, and they also help John and Lisa to be more self-reliant.  Inn Serendipity may not be very financially profitable on paper, but John says they “live like millionaires.”

Interested in becoming a member of CRAFT? Check out www.learngrowconnect.org/craftTo learn more about CRAFT Field Days visit www.learngrowconnect.org/craft-field-daysSee what else the Farmer Training Inititiatve at Angelic Organics Learning Center has to offer at www.learngrowconnect.org/farmer