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Preble County Farmers Share Solar Farm Concerns

solar panel
Credit Sergey Edentod/SHUTTERSTOCK

Governor Mike DeWine’s new Director of Ohio’s Department of Agriculture, Dorothy Pelanda, is hosting a series of ​Meet and Greets​ across the state. These local meetings are a chance for Pelanda to introduce herself to the agricultural community, and for farmers and members of the state’s food and agriculture industry to share concerns.

Members from the Preble County Soil and Water Conservation district are busy setting up chairs inside this church gymnasium for today’s public meeting with Ohio’s new Director of Agriculture Dorothy Pelanda.

The chairs fill with a crowd of around 60 farmers.

"I’m just very excited to meet the new Director for Ohio Agriculture and hear what she has to say about our future. I know the solar farm’s is a kind of controversial topic for our area," says Amy Weaver with Farm Credit Services.

"I’m a little bit worried about solar companies using good productive farmland to put solar panels on," says Mike Brubaker, a local corn and soybean farmer. "Just in Preble County alone, your looking at 15,000 to 16,000 acres going to be covered with solar panels versus farming and producing food for the people. The county we live in has been historically a rural county and they have zoning laws in effect to keep it rural, and this kind of stuff don’t seem rural to me anymore."

In the race to produce alternative energy sources to coal and gas, wind and solar farms are displacing traditional rural agricultural.

"I don’t like the term farm, because it’s not a farm, it’s a facility," says Eric Alton, a 20 year resident of Preble County and Eaton, Ohio. "So taking good quality agricultural ground and turning that into a solar facility, in my mind is not in line with what most counties and municipalities want to do with their high quality farm ground."

"I came here today to let our opposition to the solar panel in Preble County be known."

It’s these environmental factors that concern Eaton resident Marja Brandly.

"I am fifth generation farmer in preble county, my ancestors immigrated here from Scotland in 1830," she says. "400 residents are opposed to it, three in our area have signed up for it. Their actions are going to have a negative impact on our land as the waterways do not respect property rights boundaries. For example, my neighbor to the north has signed up for this. There is a waterway, an underground aquifer that runs from his land, directly through mine, through a stream, all the way to Hueston Woods. We are very concerned about the environmental impact of this cockimamie scheme."

Afterwards I asked Pelanda what her take away from this meeting was.

"Well sure, solar panels," she said. "I never had any idea. This has not been a conversation in other counties. You know, and as the Director of Agriculture, I want to promote agriculture and the farming industry in any way I can. This is perhaps the most important thing I can do as the new director. Meet one on one with farmers, with individual landowners to find out what are the issues of the day."

Renee Wilde was part of the 2013 Community Voices class, allowing her to combine a passion for storytelling and love of public radio. She started out as a volunteer at the radio station, creating the weekly WYSO Community Calendar and co-producing Women’s Voices from the Dayton Correctional Institution - winner of the 2017 PRINDI award for best long-form documentary. She also had the top two highest ranked stories on the WYSO website in one year with Why So Curious features. Renee produced WYSO’s series County Lines which takes listeners down back roads and into small towns throughout southwestern Ohio, and created Agraria’s Grounded Hope podcast exploring the past, present and future of agriculture in Ohio through a regenerative lens. Her stories have been featured on NPR, Harvest Public Media and Indiana Public Radio.