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Miedema family walking outdoors in enderby
The Miedema family out walking on their farm in Enderby

Rene Miedema’s journey on his family dairy farm has come full circle - from a youngster raised on his parents’ farm to a father considering how to leave that same farm in even better shape for his own children. Powering the farm with solar panels is just one way he and his wife Jessica are working to modernize the operation and reduce its environmental footprint.

Like most young teens, Rene Miedema didn’t exactly love doing chores when he was growing up on his family’s dairy farm in Enderby, BC. However, there were many aspects of life on a dairy farm that he did enjoy, and that appreciation has only grown with time and experience. “Early on I went to agricultural school for two years, and I also worked on another farm for a while. Those experiences made me realize the value and quality of our farm, and of working and living in such a beautiful location. In the end, it was an easy decision to take over the family farm” says Rene.

Miedema farm
Rene Miedema and his son cleaning stalls in the barn

That easy decision was made over 24 years ago when Rene took over from his father, and began dairy farming full-time. Today the farm spans 240 acres, and milks 110 dairy cows every day. While Rene, Jessica, and one employee do most of the work today, Rene’s father still helps on the farm every morning, cleaning the milking robots and providing advice. It’s a lifestyle that Rene is passionate about. “I love the sense of accomplishment at the end of a busy day, seeing a barn full of healthy cows, a bunker full of high-quality feed, and a hay barn full of sweet-smelling hay. I also get to see my family over the course of the day and more and more now I am able to do some of the work with my young children, who absolutely love farming.”

Rene Miedema
Dairy farmer Rene in front of solar panel equipment

Their children inspired Rene and Jessica to invest in a solar energy system in 2019. “We have three young children and we want to leave this farm (and planet) in a better place than it is now. We noticed that our hydro bills kept getting higher and we realized that we had an amazing roof for solar panels. It was a way to mitigate rising costs while reducing the farm’s environmental footprint at the same time.” In total, 438 solar panels were installed on the roof of the barn – an ideal large, flat surface. Through these panels, Rene’s farm is able to produce approximately 170,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year - 96 percent of the farm’s total power usage. Any excess solar energy generated through the panels in sunny periods can be put back into the electrical grid and credited by BC Hydro for use in the winter months.

Roost Solar panels
Solar panels on the barn roof at Bomi Farms. Photo courtesy of Roost Solar

The solar panels were installed in September 2019 by Roost Solar, a Vernon-based company founded by Stephen Russell, a former utilities consultant. Stephen founded Roost with the belief that technology can change the way we consume and produce power, and can contribute to a cleaner, better world. “I have felt for a long time that centralized power plants and transmission lines that transport electricity over hundreds of kilometres are not the future of our electrical grid. The price of solar panels has dropped dramatically and solar is leading the shift towards a more distributed power supply that is more resilient, efficient, and clean”, says Russell.

The company was thrilled to work with the Miedema family to install solar panels on their barn roof, explaining that dairy farms are often excellent candidates for solar systems. “They tend to have high electricity usage and large south facing roofs on their barns to mount solar arrays,” says Russell. “Farms also tend to be around long enough to support the longer term economics associated with going solar. The Miedema family are very forward thinking and were able to see how a solar panel installation could save them money and protect them against rising electricity costs. They were wonderful to work with from day one, and have been excited to see the results of harvesting the sun through solar panels.”

Roost Solar
Solar panels on the barn roof at Bomi Farms. Photo courtesy of Roost Solar

Installing a solar energy array is just the most recent innovation in sustainability these farmers have pursued. Several years ago they protected the riparian zone of the creek that runs through their property, and are currently investigating the idea of turning a portion of a crop field back into a wetland. Now, with access to solar energy they are keen to switch to electric vehicles on the farm. They have already pre-ordered an electric pickup truck. “The older I get the more I reflect on my current practices and how I can improve,” says Rene. “I know that there is room for improvement in some areas and I am excited to try new ideas. Overall, we have been trying to farm more sustainably and have been taking classes and experimenting with different strategies related to sustainable farming.”

Jessica Micah Gemma
Jessica and children in the greenhouse of Little Flora Gem

The Miedemas are test-driving some new strategies in sustainable farming through their small-scale flower and vegetable farms, a recent addition primarily operated by Jessica. “We have diversified our family dairy farm over the past four years, starting with turning a small portion into a one-acre cut flower farm, and last year adding an acre of small-scale, high-intensity vegetables under the name Little Flora Gem,” Jessica says. “I wanted to create my own niche on our family-run farm and to get back to my roots and to work with flowers and vegetables. We have plans for how to expand this over the next five years and are really excited about the direction we are headed in. I am excited to be continually learning how to be a better farmer.”

Jessica tending to seedlings for Little Flora Gem
Jessica tending to seedlings for Little Flora Gem

 

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