Solar Gardens: A Community Garden for Clean Energy

Up until recently, you needed a large farm or a home garden to be able to participate in your food production. Yet both have their problems. Massive farms produce the bulk of our food, but their cost-saving measures often result in mistreatment of animals, and healthy, fresh food is often less available in poorer neighborhoods. Home gardens have been a popular solution for some, but a person needs both time and property to significantly supplement their diet this way.

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Increasingly, community gardens and small community-supported farms (CSAs) have stepped up to address this gap. Phat Beets Produce, in Oakland, connects small farmers of color with urban communities that lack access to “healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate food”, while maintaining a community market-garden aimed at educating fellow residents about healthy food cultivation.

American solar energy is now facing a similar problem. While large, impersonal utilities are adding more and more solar farms every year, their projects are often far from the public eye and require customers to pay premiums, excluding many Americans looking to save money on their electricity bills.

Solar panels are going on more rooftops every year, but they give participants little opportunity for impact beyond their own household. They also exclude low and moderate-income Americans, who usually don’t own their homes or have the savings or credit ratings to support the panels’ upfront costs.

Solar Farms vs. Solar Gardens

Community Solar Gardens are already solving many of these problems in communities in Massachusetts, New York, and ten other community solar states. Typically located in previously unused (or unusable) spaces, like capped landfills, superfund sites and the rooftops of local institutions and businesses, solar gardens are smaller-scale solar farms that allow residents to subscribe to a reliable supply of local solar energy with no upfront cost.

Like community gardens, solar gardens bring a valuable resource to communities that previously couldn’t access that resource--all while binding those communities closer together.