Farm Energy Experience Pathway

September 2022

By Cameron Berthiaume, Renewable Energy Intern, and Eric Buchanan, Renewable Energy Scientist

This summer, the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) began developing an interpretive trail called the Farm Energy Experience Pathway. The trail will educate visitors about farm energy research being done at the WCROC and allow them to experience renewable energy systems installed here first hand. A summer intern and University of Minnesota Morris student, Cameron Berthiaume, was hired to lay the groundwork for the trail. Cameron helped plan the trail path, what sorts of signs will go on the trail, content of the signs, as well as finding potential contractors to create the signs.

The trail will feature nine stops and extend from the parking lot near the administration building all the way to the large wind turbine. It will begin near the electric vehicle charging stations in the parking lot, where visitors will learn about the WCROC itself and the benefits of electric vehicles. The second stop will feature the solar array in an adjacent pasture and the benefits of using farmland for both solar energy and agriculture, a practice called agrivoltaics. The third stop explains the solar thermal collectors next to the administration building and how they differ from solar photovoltaic panels. Visitors will then make their way across the highway and wind through the Horticulture Gardens, eventually reaching the fourth stop, a small-scale wind turbine. After learning about the viability of small-scale wind, visitors can learn about how the WCROC was able to work towards making its dairy milking parlor net-zero at stop five. Right across the path, another station about energy efficiency in swine production awaits. The seventh stop gives viewers insight into how energy is used in crop production and why soil carbon is so important. The last two stops are the green ammonia pilot plant and WCROC’s large-scale wind turbine. These stops demonstrate the importance of ammonia and wind energy and show how the two can work together towards a more sustainable future.

The trail will be part of a larger Morris Model trail network following on the example of our sister city, Saerbeck, Germany. Saerbeck is a small rural city like Morris that has won several national and international awards for their sustainability efforts – they produce more than 400% of the energy they use! City leaders installed an energy experience path several years ago so citizens could see and experience the changes that were being made in their community. Visiting Saebeck provided the inspiration to create something like it in Morris.

Similar trails are planned for the University of Minnesota Morris campus and the downtown Morris area. Together, the trails will highlight the sustainability work being done in the area along with some of the projects completed by the Morris Model Partnership. Look for a trail opening announcement later this fall or next spring.