When Jac and Josie Hoppenbrouwers decided to farm naturally, dispensing with chemical inputs like fertilizers and sprays was relatively easy. Pulling the plug on the electrical grid took a bit more effort.
The couple, who operate White Creek Meats northwest of Bowden, installed a dozen photovoltaic panels, developed energy-efficient buildings and systems, and drastically altered their lifestyle.
“When you start this solar idea, you really have to be conscious about using power,” said Jac. “Before, we used 25 kilowatts and now we use seven a day.”
Josie reflected back on how she used to take energy for granted.
“I would iron whenever I wanted; I would use my dryer whenever I wanted. But now, I check with Jac to see if we have enough juice to do that.”
She uses low-energy appliances, cooks on a propane stove and hangs her wash outside to dry.
“Even in the winter, I freeze-dry my clothes.”
The Hoppenbrouwers generate heat in a wood-burning stove and make sure their use of lights and other electrical devices are kept to a minimum. Even their home is a model of practicality, occupying about 800 square feet of their 2,500-square-foot shop.
The Hoppenbrouwers are building a new house that’s nearly triple the size of their existing home. But they don’t expect their energy needs to increase significantly.
That’s because Jac is building it with double walls separated by a thermal barrier. The ceiling is heavily insulated, there is no basement, and large south-facing windows will allow the sun’s rays to warm the concrete floor and brick wall inside.
“So, during the night we’ll get some heat out of that and don’t have to run a stove,” said Jac.
The Hoppenbrouwers plan to add more photovoltaic modules to reduce the need for supplemental electricity from a generator during the dark winter months. And they’re also going to harness the sun’s energy to warm the water that flows through their in-floor heating system.
“We use the sun as much as we can,” said Jac, who investigated geothermal technology and decided it wasn’t efficient enough for their needs.
Jac and Josie, who are 68 and 65 respectively, started with a relatively blank slate when they moved to Central Alberta from Bow Island six years ago. With Jac newly retired from a 25-year career in the plumbing and heating business and with Josie recovering from cancer, they chose a quarter section of lush parkland upon which to start a farm.
They built a barn and shop, and began raising beef, bison, pork, chickens and turkeys. The cattle and bison are grass-fed, with the poultry also allowed to graze in portable wire enclosures that protect them from coyotes. The pigs remain in the barn, where they root through the manure until it’s ready to spread on the pasture.
“It’s an easy way to get air into the system and compost it,” said Jac.
No hormones, antibiotics, vaccines or other chemical treatments are used on the animals, and any grain that is fed to them is GMO-free and hasn’t been desiccated. Mineral supplements provided to the livestock is organic.
Relying solely on their website and word-of-mouth promotion, the Hoppenbrouwers have seen demand for White Creek Meats’ products grow steadily. They sell to customers from Calgary to Edmonton, with most coming to the farm to pick up meat and eggs.
“We give lots of farm tours in the summer,” said Josie, noting that many consumers want to see where their food comes from.
The fact that White Creek Meats is off the power grid attracts lots of attention as well, said Josie. They’re not aware of any other farmers who have taken this step, and she thinks her husband could serve as a consultant in this regard.
“I think I’m going to try to talk him into it,” she said, relating how Jac was trained in the electrical, plumbing and heating trades in their native Holland, and has built everything on the farm.
“Jac always dreamed about living off the grid.”
Additional information about White Creek Meats can be found online at www.whitecreekmeats.com.