November 23, 2009 – High Hopes in Sunday Paper

The headline of this article in the Marshalltown Times-Republican is “Area Family Works to Rely on Renewable Resources.” Here’s a link to the story, and in case that ever goes stale, the story is reproduced below.

Self-reliance.
Mike Donahey

That is the lifestyle Dr. Linda Barnes and her husband, Mark Runquist, have aggressively been working toward the last 13 years since they bought a seven acre farm east of Melbourne.

Their children, Claire, Emma and Martin are part of their efforts as well.

“Everybody works on the farm,” Barnes said.

The family raises organic fruits and vegetables. Behind the house, shiitake mushrooms are being grown. Additionally, they raise broiler chickens, lamb and turkey. All are used to provide the family’s food needs.

“We buy our other meat, beef and pork locally,” Barnes said. “The only meat we don’t buy locally is pepperoni.”

“We eat well,” she said. “We have fabulous meals.”

Barnes, a Twin-Cities native, said she cans the fruit and vegetables.

They took another significant step towards self-reliance and addressing environmental concerns when they installed a 70-foot tower hosting a wind turbine. It required a significant investment of the family’s time and money.

The turbine supplies some of the farm’s electricity. What isn’t used is sold back to Consumers Energy, a Rural Electric Cooperative located west of Marshalltown.

They aren’t stopping there.

According to a press release, it was in early November the Iowa Farm Energy Working Group announced they had awarded the family a $5,000 grant to demonstrate how energy needs can be met through renewable resources. Wind is the renewable resource here.

Specifically, Linda and Mark will purchase a vertical axis wind turbine and conduct research to compare it to their existing traditional 3-blade wind turbine.

Their efforts to become self-reliant included dramatically remodeling the farmhouse and repairing the barns and other buildings.

“We put roofs on the out-buildings, planted trees and gardens,” Runquist said. “So, after 13 years, finally, we almost have all of the buildings were we want them to be.”

Runquist, a Duluth, Minn. native, said they did all the work. “Incredible” is the word Runquist used in describing the changes to the property.

With the award of the grant, the family will be increasing their commitment to generating electricity from the wind.

The decision to become more self-reliant by creating their own power was not done quickly.

“We waited a long time,” Runquist said. “So, it was about five to six years ago that we wanted to put up a wind turbine.”

However, the wind-generation equipment then was expensive – about $60,000 according to Runquist – and and only carried a one-year warranty.

“It seemed like a lot of money to sink into something that risky.”

The family re-opened the wind-generation idea about two to three years ago when the equipment became less expensive and provided a five-year warranty.

Much time was spent on the Internet researching companies and equipment. Eventually they decided to purchase the equipment from a Flagstaff, Ariz. based company and it was installed by a company-certified contractor, Todd Hammen of Barnes City.

Runquist said this was one project they didn’t do themselves, due to the complexity of installing a 70-foot tower and the equipment warranty would be voided, he said.

However, before the project started they worked to reduce their household need of electricity. This involved purchasing different energy-saving appliances.

Once the project was complete, Runquist said a party was held to celebrate.

Joining them was Consumer Energy’s Chairman of the Board.

The family and CE have a strong relationship.

“I applaud Linda and Mark for their considerable efforts to become energy efficient and to secure it from renewable resources,” CE CEO Brian Heitoff said.

“We have had a great working relationship for a number of years. Our cooperative is membership owned and it is our duty to work with our customers if they wish to explore these options. Mark and Linda are very knowledgeable customers – they had an idea and we worked with them.”

Heitoff said other CE customers have installed wind-generation equipment and that the company is “right up there” nationally for wind-generated electricity.

Additionally, the company has installed several huge wind-generating devices near their office.

Runquist said the family will explore installing solar energy equipment in the next few years when the price for equipment goes down.

He said solar power will compliment their wind power.

“The peak months for solar power are when wind generation is down,” he said. “Three days of strong winds in April equal what we receive in the month of August.”

The family earned some notoriety recently. when Oprah Winfrey’s Web site (Oprah.com) publicized their efforts. It was entitled “Unexpected Ways to go Green.”

“They must have picked it up from our farm’s Web site www.highhopesgardens.com Runquist said.

Barnes and Runquist were graduate students at Iowa State University when they decided to purchase their farm property.

“It was not our plan to remain in Iowa,” she said. But in looking back, she is impressed with how far the family has come.

When not working on the farm, Barnes is an Associate Professor of Biology at Iowa Valley Community College’s Marshalltown campus. “I love to teach,” she said of her work.

Runquist is also busy with a non-farm job. He works for Wells-Fargo in Des Moines several days a week and also from the home.

When asked why the family has elected to become self-reliant, Barnes replied quickly.

“It is fundamental to our values,” she said. “It is important to us, it is who we are.”

one year ago…”The Fine Line Between Fall and Winter”