The Greek philosopher Plato once observed that “necessity is
the mother of invention.” This adage certainly holds true for
Sun Moon Farm, a medium-sized concern that has been run by
Craig and Megan Jensen of Rindge since 2011. In that time, the couple has made various adaptations to their equipment, including adding year-round greenhouses and a specially-adapted electric tractor.
The farm occupies what was once the Thomas Farm, dating back to the Revolutionary War. In 1957, the property was purchased by The Meeting School, a co-ed boarding and day school guided by the practices of the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers. Craig and Megan both worked on the faculty here, serving as farmers, teachers and house parents.
When the school closed, they stayed on the property, intending to continue honoring the Quaker testimonies that were at the heart of its mission, including community, peace, simplicity and integrity. They eventually set up a CSA, feeding about 120 local families, as well as establishing a small co-housing neighborhood.
The farm is completely organic, as the gardens and trees are never chemically sprayed. They are maintained by manure from the animals, rotational planting, cover crops and rest where appropriate.
Additionally, Megan makes bread as an option to their CSA customers, offering rustic, sourdough, rye and other varieties.
“We’ve made a number of innovations in the last few years,” says Craig Jensen, “including the greenhouses that allow us to grow salad greens, spinach and kale throughout the winter. That means we’re one of the few growers around here who have fresh food year-round.”
The tractor, on the other hand, comes out of the need to recognize the limitations of the land itself and adapt accordingly.
“We modified the tractor to work entirely on electricity,” Jensen says. “It’s really a matter of scale. We’re not so small that we can do everything people-powered, but not large enough to use modern equipment. Being in the Monadnock Region, we have a lot of granite around here, which really limits the size of our fields. Over in Keene and Winchester, they’re essentially in the Connecticut River Valley, which really opens up their options.”
These limitations have worked in the farm’s favor, as the couple wanted to run a community-sized concern, where they could get to know all of their customers. To find the kind of equipment they would need for this operation, they looked back to the 1940s and 1950s, to see what used to work a farm of this size.
“We eventually settled on the Allis-Chalmers tractor, which was what people used when they started moving away from horse-drawn equipment,” Jensen says. “We found one parked in the woods, which hadn’t run in 30 or more years.”
The tractor, he says, was a complete rust bucket, but the frame was sound.
“So, we dragged it out, sandblasted and repainted it, took out the engine and rebuilt it with electric motors,” he says.
“It’s now a fully-electric vehicle with the same torque as when it was gas-powered,” Jensen notes. “You can plug it into any regular
wall outlet for a couple of hours, to charge it up.”
The tractor will be on display at the Radically Rural symposium on September 19 at the Mabel Brown Room, Keene State College (see related story on page 42.)
“This is pretty new to us,” Jensen says. “It’s an expo of people in rural areas, coming up with ways to make their lives more sustainable. We’re bringing the tractor up there to show it off. A lot of people are familiar with electric vehicles, such as cars, but we’re there to demonstrate the huge potential in electric farm equipment.”
The funding for this project came from the farm’s CSA members, along with a grant from the New England Yearly Meeting, run by the Quakers.
“They were really interested in this project,” Jensen says. “The Quakers are looking toward climate preparedness, so the idea of an electric tractor really got them involved.”
Jensen says he is committed to growing local food, and keeping it as sustainable as possible, so the tractor fits right into that model.
“The tractor looks great, but it isn’t perfect. Then again, perfect isn’t the goal. It’s all about doing the best you can,” he says. “For instance, there were a few things I wish I could have done differently, such as getting a better transmission, but it’s running and doing its job. If we wanted perfect, we would never have started farming in the first place.”
Eric Stanway writes from Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.