Sustainability Pays Off
Reduced disease is a side benefit of Howard Prussack’s heating overhaul, which dramatically cut his energy costs.
PROFILE: Howard & Lisa Crawford Prussack, owners, High Meadows Farm, Putney, VT.
MARKET: High Meadows grows and sells all-organic herbs, hanging baskets, patio vegetables, and perennials to Whole Foods stores, markets, and garden centers in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
GROWING AREA: 23,000 square feet of greenhouses plus three acres of field growing (garlic, onions, winter squash and pumpkin). Separate greenhouses dedicated to raspberries and tomatoes, as well as herbs and vegetables.
• Oldest built in 1979 – still in operation
• 6 heated greenhouses and 3 unheated tunnels
• Misting system in propagation house
• Most recent greenhouse added in 2009 (40 x 100 sq), with open roof and sides and hot water heating by Delta T Solutions
Why is Sustainability
Worth the Investment?
Sustainable practices benefit growers in terms of bottom line economics, but not just because of energy savings or reduction of inputs. Consumers are increasingly interested in the sustainability efforts of companies they do business with, and they’re even willing to pay more for goods and services that have a lesser environmental impact, according to a recent Nielsen study. Here’s a look at some key findings:
- Overall, 66% of respondents say they’re willing to pay more for products and services that come from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact (up from 50% in 2013).
- Nearly 75% of millennials said they’d pay more, up from about 50% in 2014.
- 72% of generation Z (ages 15-20) are willing to pay a premium for products and services from sustainably minded companies (up from just 55% in 2014).
- 51% of baby boomers are willing to shell out more for sustainability, up seven percentage points from 2014.
DELTA T HEATING PROFILE:
• New greenhouse has a complete hot water system with 400,000 BTU stainless steel Spectrum boiler
• 28 rolling benches with bench-top rubber tube heating
“We started as an organic vegetable farm in 1971 and built our first greenhouse in 1979. It’s still in use,” says Prussack. “We started getting more serious about the greenhouse growing business, and expanded into more greenhouses starting in 2001.”
High Meadows is the first certified organic farm in Vermont. Through the years, Prussack expanded the product line. “We produce about 40 different items, in many sizes (4, 6, 8, 12, and 15-in., for instance). That’s a lot of products and it’s complicated to plan; yet we want to continue to develop new products. We direct-ship to the stores, so our plants are very fresh and high quality.”
LOOKING FOR ENERGY EFFICIENCY:
As an organic farmer, Prussack is attuned to the environment and related issues. The thought of not wasting energy or money was important to him. “We had been growing year-round, but when we looked for ways to get more profit margin and limit energy cost increases, we decided not to grow all year. We closed our greenhouses, except for the one housing our stock plants, and cut back winter operations. We were running trucks all winter, using so much fuel, and we really needed a break,” he explains.
“At the same time, we also decided to expand with our new greenhouse. I had some experience using hot water, bench-top heating so I knew I wanted to use that system in the new greenhouse. We talked with Delta T and asked them to design a system around our operation, which they did.”
The new greenhouse has an open roof and sides that open, hot-water heating, misting, and 28 rolling benches, each with two valves. “This greenhouse has great ventilation and is very quiet because there are no fans,” he says. “The boiler is so quiet that at first, we asked, ‘Is it on?’”
“Originally, we thought two valves at each bench would be too much, but instead, found that it gave us more flexibility. Now, we can shut off heat to various benches, or just heat some of them,” Prussack explains. “Instead of heating the whole house, we can heat individual benches.”
An added benefit is improved health of Prussack’s plants. “The hot-water heat also has really improved the quality of our plants. In mid-winter, the house is dry and warm, and the plants love it. The leaves are dry, and the roots stay warm.”
Disease is also reduced, Prussack found. “We used to get powdery mildew and had to treat it with natural products every 10 days. Since we switched to hot-water heat, we only treated once all winter. That’s amazing!”
Prussack was unsure how the cutback in growing time and increase in space would affect his bottom line. He says the reduced production actually balanced out with increased sales in the warm months – as a “wash.” “We estimate the entire greenhouse plus heating system will pay for itself in 3 years. Even though we added a new greenhouse, we’re still saving nearly $5,000 in energy costs.”
“The hot-water system also gives us flexibility for the future, because we’d like to set up a solar heating system and use the boiler as the backup,” he explains.
ADVICE FOR GROWERS:
“Besides labor, energy costs are important,” Prussack notes. “So when you’re planning a new heating system, look beyond the first year’s payback and think long-term. A hot-water system will cost you more initially, but it will give you payback within a few years. It will also improve your environment because it is so quiet, and it helps the plants stay healthy.”