Farm Teen Reaps State Energy Grant
Jan. 21Charlie Andersen was noodling around with the idea of growing corn on his family's farm in Charlestown Township and converting it to fuel. He figured the fuel could be used for heating a greenhouse-type structure called a hoophouse. Or for running the tractor.
But there was a major problem. The fuel tends to be hard on engine seals, especially on newer tractor models.
And then he heard about a furnace that burned corn kernels, completely eliminating the conversion process. And the lightbulb went on.
To his hoophouse design, he added solar panels and photovoltaic cells, ending up with an inexpensive greenhouse that will be heated with corn and powered by the sun, and will provide fresh, organically grown vegetables in the dead of winter.
Yesterday, Andersen, 16, a junior at Great Valley High School, sporting a corn-ear patterned tie, proudly accepted a check for $34,577 from the state Department of Environmental Protection. The grant will fund what officials call the first project of its kind in the state.
"I'm really excited," Andersen said during a ceremony in the barn on the Charlestown Road farm. "It will dramatically improve the sustainability of the farm."
The farm, known as the Charlestown Cooperative Farm, is owned by the Andersen family and farmed by Aimee and John Good. It is supported by 125 families who buy annual memberships in the cooperative. The concept is known as community-supported agriculture.
Members are entitled to a weekly supply of vegetables, which they pick up at the farm, and the right to pick certain crops, such as strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes and flowers, whenever they want. The farm also sells its organically grown produce at the Phoenixville Farmers' Market.
While the farm is not yet permanently protected from development, Liz Andersen, Charlie's mother, said plans are under way toward that end.
Joe Feola, regional director of the state environmental agency, said Anderson's project would save 875 gallons of heating oil and 2,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, and, best of all, run on corn a common crop in the state.
"I don't know where you came up with this idea," Feola said to Andersen, "but it's great."
The grant came from a two-year-old program, the Energy Harvest Initiative, that was launched by Gov. Rendell to promote clean and renewable energy in the state. Feola said that since the program's inception, the $10 million in grants have attracted another $26.7 million in private funding.
Most of the Energy Harvest grant money that has come into Chester County has gone to finding alternative uses for the 400 tons of spent mushroom compost produced each day in the county by mushroom growers.
In 2003, the Chester County Industrial Development Authority won a $150,000 grant to look at the feasibility of converting the compost into methanol and ethanol. Last year, the agency received $250,000 to fund the next phase of that project.
Also, a $16,667 grant from the 2004 round will be used to install a five-kilowatt photovoltaic system at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square.
And Mesa Environmental Services of Malvern received $48,315 from the Energy Harvest program to install solar photovoltaic systems in East Whiteland, Tredyffrin and Willistown Townships.
Feola said that the 2004 round was probably the last one unless the governor's Growing Greener II proposal is approved by the legislature and the $800 million bond issue to pay for it is passed by the voters.
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© 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.