HP: What other changes have you made since then?
WW: The home site sits along what used to be the main ranch road—on the northwest side of a large mountain—and that compromised our array’s electricity production. So, in 2007, we relocated the house’s PV array farther from the house so it could capture more solar energy—it now intercepts about 70% of the sun’s path. This is not a tracked system, but pole-mounted. During this time, the system was upgraded from 12 V to 24 V, with twelve 130 W PV modules, a new inverter and new charge controller, and 12 Rolls Surrette S460 batteries. Seasonally, we adjust the array’s tilt.
A 6 kW diesel generator provides backup, as well as battery equalization and recharging. In the winter, we use it about two hours daily—in the early morning and evening. Occasionally, we’ll use it in the summer, depending on ranch visitors’ electricity utilization, since most of them are not conservation-savvy.
In the house, we use standard AC Energy Star appliances, but still use propane for water heating, cooking, and drying clothes. We previously had a propane freezer and refrigerator, but have switched to electricity for these. These are also just typical, off-the-shelf brands. We time our “big” loads—like washing clothes and vacuuming—for when we have ample energy, that is, when the sun is shining and the batteries are fully charged.
HP: So what motivated you to upgrade your house system?
WW: Better-quality batteries were available when we needed to replace them and there had been inverter improvements as well. Plus, we were able to afford to move the modules to a better location. Propane costs had steadily gone up and it is difficult to find quality propane refrigerators. Propane freezers are expensive to buy and operate.
HP: Given your remote location, how were you able to support your ranch and rural lifestyle?
WW: In 2006, Suzanne retired from her career as a physician’s assistant, and began running the ranch full time. Lanita continued (and continues) to work as a gynecologist in nearby Medford. We decided to try making the enterprises on our land be fully self-sustaining, including economically.
We manage the forested acres with restoration logging and replanting to obtain a sustainable timber harvest, but in the recent downturned economy, the cost of logging became greater than the income.
We always have had dairy goats and organically raised pigs for meat. We have expanded to breeding our own Berkshire pigs, and we have developed a raw goat-milk herd-share enterprise and milk 12 goats twice a day. We sell our three lines of specialty goat and pork sausage at farmers’ markets and online, and have recently started community-supported agriculture (CSA) partnering with other local organic meat producers who contribute beef, lamb, rabbit, and chicken.
In addition to raising livestock, we offer “farm stays” for folks who are interested in a sustainable getaway on a working ranch. We have a seasonal campground with tent camping, as well as wall tents for luxury and comfort. Both opportunities provide agritourism income and educational experiences—guests get to experience off-grid farm life, the animals, and quality, farm-fresh foods, as well as the natural beauty of the woodland and meadows.
Where we live and how we live is both a choice and an adventure. It is an educational experience to share with those who visit us.