Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on me

The curriculum for the Ridge to Reef program here at the Virgin Islands Sustainable Farm Institute (VISFI) is split into 8 different study areas: Farm-based Education, Permaculture, Sustainable Building, Agroecology, Animal Husbandry, Renewable Energy, Slow Food Cooking, and Agrotourism. As a class, the nine of us will spend a week on each study area (minus animal husbandry because not as much interest was expressed toward that area) and one week at the end will be spent on holistic synthesis, where we will bring everything together into a cohesive whole.

Individually, each of us has chosen one area to focus on more fully. We will spend two days a week working with an adviser in that focus area, while completing a final project that will benefit the farm in some way, and giving us a way to turn our ideas into reality. We will also show our project to the class at the end of the term in a final presentation.

It took some hard thinking to decide which area I wanted to focus on. It was a relatively difficult process - as decisions often are. Permaculture has been very interesting, as I will highlight in a future post. And sustainable building is something I have been interested in for a while. I really wish I could spend months studying each one of those areas and putting that knowledge to practical use. Someday, I want to build my own home - an efficient, energy-saving place where I can raise a family and grow old. And I want to use the land around me to grow food and create a fertile environment for natural cycles to take place. Still, I knew the place I wanted to start my quest for knowledge was with renewable energy.

As I focus on renewable energy, I will be working with Dan Glenn, the farm's operations manager, to create a sustainable system of solar power for a specified site. First, though, Dan will have to teach me (and Patrick, the other student who chose renewable energy as his focus) the basics of electricity. We spent a few hours last week looking into the system where he lives on the farm. There really is a lot to take into consideration when deciding how to set up your own solar system.

So far, all I have done is read through a few packets of information on electricity, wiring, circuitry, and solar power. For instance, did you know that enough sunlight travels to the earth each day to provide enough energy to last us 5 years at our current rate of consumption? That's pretty crazy.

Soon we will be hiking up to Kyle's place, checking out the site, and working with him to design a system that meets his needs. Kyle is a staffer here on the farm, who is currently teaching us all about permaculture. He is almost finished building his own cabana up in the hills above the moringa swales. He wants a solar system to provide his power, so Patrick and I will work with him as our client to design, build, and install a system before the term is over.

I chose renewable energy as my focus area because I felt like it was the area I could benefit from most during my time here. Though I do really want to learn a lot more about other areas as well (permaculture, sustainable building, agroecology, etc.), I know that I can always find ways to learn about these things in other places - whether it be through a class or through an apprenticeship or just simply asking lots of questions at farmer's markets. I don't know a whole lot of places where I will get a chance to design, build, and install a solar system with no previous knowledge or experience. It is just something I can't pass up.

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