Five years ago, local walnut farmer Russ Lester set a company goal to be completely energy self sufficient. He will accomplish that goal before the end of this year.
Lester is the owner of Dixon Ridge Farms, located between Dixon and Winters. He was honored this month as an "Environmental Hero" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Lester's 1,250-acre walnut farming operation won the Most Sustainable Agriculture category. The nominees were comprised of farms located within California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and the Pacific Territories.
"This award is pretty cool," says recipient Russ Lester, who didn't even know he was nominated, "most other awards we have received have been from non-profits like DPR, but this award is for an entire region; it is pleasant to be acknowledged in that large of an area."
Lester hopes that from this award his message of sustainability can reach greater popularity."Sustainability means that we should be able to do what we are doing for well over 1000 years," explains Lester, "it is something we should all strive to achieve and is doable at all levels."
Lester comes from a long line of family farming, starting in 1863 in Santa Clara area, before relocating to the Dixon/Winters area in the mid-1970's during the technology boom. Dixon Ridge Farms became certified organic in 1990 and has been a sustainable farm since 1991.
Along with a 17,000kw solar power system, the farm uses ground breaking technology created by Community Power Corporation Colorado, called the Biomax 50, a demo machine that was available through the Solyndra Grant in 2007.
This Biomax 50 burns the shells and hulls from the walnuts, a by-product of walnut farming, creating a sand-like ash concentrated into a nutrient rich called Bio-Char. The pyrolysis gases are then removed from the Bio-Char and used as a propane replacement for all farm purposes. The Bio-Char that remains is useful carbon that is then returned to the soil as plant fertilizer, removing nitrate pollutants from ground water while redistributing nitrogen to the trees.
With this technology Dixon Ridge Farms is creating a negative carbon footprint, "environmentally benign," as Lester calls it, aiding in solving green house gas problems by removing carbon dioxide from the air.
Lester's dream of self sufficient farming will be complete soon, with the arrival of the Biomax 100. This technology upgrade solves problems found in the demo, making it even more efficient, and is even capable of using fruit pits, tomato pulp, prunings and more as energy.
Lester explains, "With the technology available today, 20-30 percent of California's energy usage can be created from by-products; we do not need to wait 40 years; we can do this now."
As a population, Lester suggests we can contribute in many small easy ways. Buy food from local farmers, this keeps money in our local economy, keeps jobs domestic, and reduces fuel used for transport. And eat whats in season. Support energy efficient companies, look for less packaged products. Invest in automobiles that are more efficient, change lighting in your home to reduce your power consumption, use solar energy and support law changes on air emissions regulations that make it easier to be licensed and operate more efficiently.
Dixon Ridge Farms sells mostly wholesale, but is available at Whole Foods Markets in their bulk walnut bins under the 365 Organic Brand.