Little USA Community Solar Campus Agrivoltaics Training and Curriculum Development

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2024: $79,965.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2025
Grant Recipient: Little USA Community Solar Campus
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Jack Podell
Little USA Community Solar Campus


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

Agrivoltaics (farming with
assistance of solar energy)  is a relatively new concept
with practical applications for farmers, community gardeners, and
related agricultural ventures. While there are excellent examples
of Agrivoltaic pioneers, such as Jack’s Solar Garden in Colorado,
and others, there is a notable absence of this effort in Alabama.
Little USA, with the help of local community members,
Institutions that produce industry leaders including Auburn and
Tuskegee Universities, and regional partners, will develop a
cohort of instructors, plan, and resources to build innovative
sustainable agricultural practices in Alabama and the Black Belt

As we develop a training and
certification program for Solar Energy careers and applications
within the agricultural economy of the Black Belt region, we are
confronted with a lack of trainers within our region for these
targeted career opportunities. This project will be the
cornerstone of an ongoing program in partnership with established
institutions, including Auburn and Tuskegee universities, local
industry partners  plus assistance from Jack’s Solar Garden,
to build a model for innovation in the region over the longer

LittleUSA (LUSA) Community Solar
Campus is a 22 acre property located in Union Springs in the
Black Belt region of rural Alabama, donated by the Hall-Jordan
Allen Family Trust, to fulfill a mission of bringing economic
opportunity through education and workforce development in
sustainable energy and agriculture.

Our investment in the community
will ensure that generations continue to thrive starting with
education and career opportunities in the $881 billion Green
Energy economy.


Project objectives from proposal:

Main Project Objectives: 

The objectives of this project
are multifaceted and transdisciplinary, bringing together the
expertise of educators, practitioners and stakeholders who can
extend their knowledge to empower grassroot communities with
knowledge and capacity building skills. 

Create the Cohort: LUSA’s
first step will be to gather a group of educators and others
interested in developing innovative tools for agriculture and
renewable energy and for teaching. The cohort will include
professors at universities in the region, instructors at
community colleges, farm to fork activists, representatives of
local Ag Extension including 4H youth leaders. This cohort will
gather expertise to design a course, test the feasibility of the
course, evaluate and train the next generation of agri-voltaic

Introduce Agrivoltaics and Solar Energy to the Cohort:
Through a combination of online
learning and in-person workshops, the cohort will be introduced
to Agrivoltaics by educators from the Colorado Agrivoltaics
Learning Center associated with Jack’s Solar Garden, the largest
Agrivoltaic enterprise in the United States. 

The cohort will also receive an
introductory series of workshops and hands-on experience
following NABCEP (North American Board of Energy Professionals)
requirements as a first step to careers in the solar industry.
That segment of the training will be led by Joe Mitchell.

Build a Model Agrivoltaic Installation: An essential step in the program will be the
installation of a model Agrivoltaic garden at the Little USA site
in Union Springs. The solar installation will be led by Joe
Mitchell with strategic input from Dr. Eduard Muljadi, professor
of Electrical Engineering at Auburn University and an associate
of NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory).

Along with the Installation of
solar panels, the cohort will prepare a demonstration community
garden on an acre. Part of the garden will be devoted to crops
that are suited for growing beneath the solar canopy and the
remainder of the acre will consist of crops that are usually
grown in the region with irrigation and other necessary support
powered by the solar panels.

The initial funds from grant and
investment funders will be dedicated to the prioritized LUSA
objectives, beginning with the first steps in creating an
Agrivoltaics training facility and the development of a core
group of trainers in southeastern Alabama. 

The proposed leader-training will
include online study and in-person hands-on experience building a
demonstration community garden featuring crops that can thrive
under the solar panel canopy. The panels will also be installed
by trainees led by our certified trainer, who will need to come
from outside of the region due to the current lack of regional
instructors. We hope to create a foundation for Agrivoltaic
training In the region with assistance from this grant.

Develop a Training Protocol and Resource for the Region:
As a collaborative project, the
cohort will bring their expertise and priorities together to
create a scope and sequence for training focused on needs of the
Black Belt region. This may be a modular approach to teaching as
the curriculum needs of a college class may be different than a
company training its employees on the needs of farmers as well as
solar providers. Farmers may first need to be introduced to the
benefits of adoption of an agrivoltaic approach to growing
practices. Likewise solar developers should understand how
working with farmers benefits their businesses. 

Modules developed by the cohort
and reactions of the cohort to the training experience will be
published together with other web resources they find useful. The
training resource will be made available on a website that can be
used to test some of the concepts. As a living tool, the resource
will be open to change and further development. 

The proposed project is limited
in scope with large longer term goals. We see this as an opening
step to introducing Agrivoltaics to the region through all of the
entities and avenues represented by the cohort. The outcome of
this initial project will be a training model that can grow in
the region.

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.