BERNARDSTON — The Grover family’s decision to pursue a solar panel installation for their field at 32 Fox Hill Road was not made impulsively.

Over the last 25 years, Butch Grover said, the expenses for the family’s dairy farm has tripled, while the price of milk has gone down.

“We don’t know whether that milk is going to be worth 14 dollars a hundred (hundredweight, 100 pounds) or 22 dollars a hundred, but we know it’s going to cost 25 dollars a hundred to make it,” Butch Grover said. “It’s made miners out of farmers. It’s taking away what we’ve got invested in the land. … We’ve got to figure out a way of getting somewhere near what we’ve got for expenses.”

Butch Grover and his wife, Donna, are the third generation to operate the 106-year-old River Maple Farm. Their daughters, Rena, 24, and Regina, 26, want to be the fourth.

But with markets for dairy farmers becoming increasingly difficult, the family has been forced to find alternative ways of using the land. The options are limited though.

Bernardston’s soil isn’t particularly rich, Butch Grover said, so farming vegetables wouldn’t work.

Several developers have approached the family about buying pieces of farm land for low-income housing projects. But that would only be a temporary fix to a long-term problem, Donna Grover said.

“Then we’ll just keep juggling until we need another fix,” she said. “And then we’ll sell another part, and it will keep going like that.”

“We don’t want to develop the land,” Regina Grover said. “That’s the last thing we want to do.”

The solar panel installation will give the Grovers the income they need to continue operating their dairy farm without making the land unfarmable in the future. The plan is to drive the solar panels directly into the soil, without concrete bases or any other permanent alteration to the land. After 25 years, the solar panels will be removed or renewed, depending on what the agricultural market is like then.

The family chose to work with the Clean Energy Collective because they see it as a “community-focused” company, Regina Grover said. Local residents can buy into the program for a reduction to their energy bill.

The project would support the local economy, the Grovers say.

“We need to realize, where is our electricity going to come from?” Regina Grover said. “Is it going to come from Canada, or are we going to make it ourselves?”

“I just wish the town could embrace this project,” Donna Grover said. “Years ago when the electricity came in, they had parades in town. Now people worry about what it’s going to look like.”

Contact Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 261.


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