Water Conservation and Grey Water Recycling at Three Rivers Community Farm

Project Overview

FNC06-606
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2006: $5,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Vegetables: cucurbits, tomatoes

Practices

  • Animal Production: watering systems
  • Crop Production: greenhouses, irrigation, water management

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    Three Rivers Community Farm is located in Elsah, IL on 12 acres leased from Principia College – 2009 will be its third season. The farm grows over 55 different vegetable crops organically and raises a small herd of pigs and laying hens. Vegetables are distributed through our 150 member CSA and two farmers markets in St. Louis, MO. We also market our produce to Principia College dining services and one small health food store in St. Louis. The farm is the sole proprietorship of Amy Cloud and Jose Lara.

    The farm land, prior to our lease, had been farmed conventionally for many decades. Our first growing season, 2007, began the process of transitioning the soil from conventional to organic. We have consistently practiced organic farming methods in our two growing seasons on the land; however, we do not intend to certify after 2009. We were fortunate to receive the grant as we were starting our farm from scratch. This has allowed us to think about long-term sustainability issues right from the beginning and begin incorporating sustainable systems.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
    Goals:
    1. To design and install a produce washing station.
    2. To design and install a system to hold and reuse the wash water from our produce washing station directing it towards irrigation of our greenhouse crops, nearby Pick-Your-Own crops, or watering of livestock.
    3. To design and install a system for collecting the rainwater from the roof of our barn and attached produce washing station.

    PROCESS
    1. The design and installation of the produce washing station centered around functionality, proximity, and increasing the roof square footage for rainwater catchment. It was determined that adding an addition to the back of our already existing barn would be the best location for the washing station. The back of the barn then was expanded an additional 10 feet out. The wash station is easily accessible by truck to offload produce; it is built right up against our cooler, so produce can be transferred easily; and the produce washing station faces directly opposite our greenhouse which is less than 15 feet away. There is ample space to expand into the produce wash station as our farm grows in the future.

    2. The second aspect of the project was designing a system to collect the wash water from the post-harvest handling of produce at the wash station. The design was initially submitted by Farmergy, Inc. However, the consultant proved to be disappointing. The designs were very late and required much pursuing on our part. Then, the designs we did receive were not imaginative and not in line with what we originally discussed at our site consultation. Mike Rechlin, a natural resources and biology professor at Principia College, stepped in afterwards to give additional consultation about the system.

    We purchased two 100 gallon livestock-rubbermaid tanks for washing the produce. We elevated them on cement blocks at a height that was comfortable for washing produce. The produce is washed using our sole source of water—city water from the Rural Jerseyville Water Company. At this point producers could opt for a more high-tech system to transfer and recycle the wash water. Farmergy’s design recommended several holding tanks: an above ground 1,500 gallon water storage tank and a below-ground 200 gallon storage tank. Wash water would be transferred from the washing station to the 1,500 gallon tank and if needed, the 200 gallon below-ground tank, using a solar water pump powered by three 110-watt solar panels. In addition, the pump would be the power behind using this water to irrigate the greenhouse and nearby crops. Because we currently lease the land we farm, we didn’t feel comfortable excavating and installing a below-ground system. Also, the cost of the solar water pump alone was over $2,000 and this did not include the solar panels. We felt the cost far exceeded what savings we could generate by reusing the water.

    Instead our system is primarily gravity-fed, with a back up small portable water pump when needed. Once we have finished washing, two manifold lines are attached directly to the bottom spigots of the washing tanks. These manifold lines lead directly to drip lines less then twenty feet away to drip lines which water our greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers. If no watering is needed in the greenhouse on a given day the water can be transferred to either of our water storage tanks using the pump. The manifold lines that attach to the 100 gallon washing tanks are easily attached and detached. Once the water is drained, the silt is rinsed out of the tanks, which are then ready for their next use. Produce is washed typically four days a week for about thirty weeks out of the year. Sometimes emptying and refilling the washing tanks are necessary when produce is exceptionally dirty. Therefore, about 24,000 gallons of water purchased first from the city are reused either in watering greenhouse plants or stored for later usage to irrigate field crops or watering livestock. As our farm grows it will be easy to add additional wash tanks if necessary and incorporate them into our system.

    3. The collection of the rainwater is the easiest aspect of our system. Once the produce washing station was built, Eric Shultis, a local handyman, guttered the area. The guttering leads directly to our 1,000 gallon water storage tank which is located right next to the washing station. From there, we can irrigate the crops immediately surrounding the barn using low-pressure gravity drip irrigation. Or, for produce further afield, another 500 gallon water storage tank and trailer were purchased. We can fill this tank directly during a rain storm by backing the trailer up to the barn to the guttering system. When empty, we can transfer from the 1000 gallon tank to the 500 gallon tank using a pump. This portable 500 gallon tank allows us to capture those additional gallons during a heavy rainstorm and easily transport them to other areas of the field. This includes hauling water to our six pigs which are pastured out in the field, far from the barn. The total surface area for rainwater collection is 832 square feet. A rainfall of one inch yields 500 gallons of water.

    PEOPLE
    Henry Wentz of Farmergy Consulting gave us the initial design for the rainwater collection and wash water recycling system. I would not recommend this service as the cost of the consultation did not meet the final design offered.

    Mike Rechlin, a natural resources and biology professor at Principia College, designed and built our produce washing station.

    Eric Shultis, handyman, was hired to install the guttering.

    Jennifer Russell from the Jerseyville Extension Service and Christine Favilla from the Alton Sierra Club helped us host a farm tour in August, 2007 which highlighted our goals and initial designs for the SARE grant. There were over 50 individuals in attendance.

    Jennifer Pascoe from the Environmental Science Department of Lewis & Clark College toured several area CSA’s in October, 2008. Our farm was part of this tour and we were able to share with students from their environmental studies group about our rainwater collection system and how we recycle our wash water.

    Several area farms toured Three Rivers Farm in 2008 with their interns and we were able to discuss our SARE grant. These farms were La Vista CSA, Biver Farms, and Spikenard Farm.

    RESULTS
    In the end, we were unable to measure the results from our project. The latter half of 2007 was spent finding a consultant and then deciding upon the design. The early half of 2008 was when the wash station was built and rainwater and wash water collection systems installed. However, 2008 ended up being the wettest on record. We had an additional 23 inches of rain on top of the normal 36. We had too much water to deal with! It was easy to see the results of our rainwater collection system as a 500 gallon water storage tank was filled with every inch of rain. But since we didn’t need to irrigate, some of the water was used for our pigs, and we sometimes washed produce with it (however, I worry about the safety of rainwater and need to investigate further before we use it more often for produce washing). In the end, we couldn’t store or use all the rain water we would have collected; so much of it was redirected back to the ground water. Our greenhouse wasn’t built until early November 2008, so we were unable to see the savings from sending our wash water to irrigate those crops. We most look forward to seeing results and savings from this aspect of our system in 2009.

    We discovered a CATCH-22 with our system. There is only so much water to store during a limited rainfall year, and when there is too much rain, there’s no need to store much of it because irrigation needs are met. Storing rainwater can meet our livestock’s water needs and some irrigation needs. However, where we can see the biggest impact is the recycling of our wash water and redirecting it towards our greenhouse, which always needs to be watered regardless of too much rain. Financially, for this upcoming season, by reusing the 24,000 gallons of city water used to wash produce to water our greenhouse crops we will be able to save about $400 a year (we are charged $17 per 1,000 gallons). This does not seem to be a huge financial savings. What is less easily measured, however, is the possible erosion we are avoiding from disposing of so much wash water directly into the ground. And, the slightly lesser demand we would be putting on a city water supply in a very dry year or several dry years by using what we do purchase to its fullest potential. A way to maximize this rainwater collection and recycling of wash water in future years would be if we were able to dig a pond, channeling extra water in wet years to the pond, which would be valuable for recharging from dry years.

    DISCUSSION
    In the end, I am unsure if tackling such a project so early on in a farm’s growth and development is a good idea. The system we chose will grow as the farm grows, but only up to a certain point. If our barn gets much bigger, or we add different technologies to washing produce, a different system will be needed. I could see much larger benefits and savings for a well-established, well-infrastructured, high production produce farm.
    With that said, I am proud that we are taking steps toward sustainability, even if their end footprints are small. If we had no city water source, then the rainwater we would collect from a normal rain year would be enough for our livestock and produce washing water needs. It feels good to know that ultimately we don’t need to rely on an outside water source; that Mother Nature can take us a long way.

    OUTREACH
    Our methods for telling our local community about our project included one field day early on in the project development and several smaller tours. All further information, updates, photos, and our 2009 results will be posted on our website (www.threeriverscommunityfarm.com).
    Jennifer Russell from the Jerseyville Extension Service and Christine Favilla from the Alton Sierra Club helped us host a field day in August, 2007 which highlighted our goals and initial designs for the SARE grant. There were over 50 individuals in attendance. Photos of the field day are available on our website under our 2007 photos link.

    Jennifer Pascoe from the Environmental Science Department of Lewis & Clark College toured several area CSA’s in October, 2008. Our farm was part of this tour and we were able to share with students from their environmental studies group about our rainwater collection system and how we recycle our wash water.

    Several area farms toured Three Rivers Farm in 2008 with their interns and we were able to discuss our SARE grant. These farms were La Vista CSA, Biver Farms, and Spikenard Farm. Spikenard Farm had 10 people in attendance; La Vista CSA had three; Biver Farms had three.

    The Principia College biology and natural resources department regularly brings classes out to the farm to learn about organic vegetable farming and our sustainability practices. There are typically two classes in the spring and two in the fall with each class having between 12-20 students. It is exciting for us to share with young people, who are especially in tune with environmental issues, the small steps we are taking to save natural resources.

    In terms of media coverage, one story was done on our project in 2008 by the publication AgriNews. The article can be found on the website www.agrinews-pubs.com.

    Another article about the project will be published mid-year 2009 in the farm journal Farm Show, contributing editor, C.F. Marley.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.