The Decidedly Sustainable, Indubitably Adaptable Rays By Eric D. S. Dorman

When we think about farming, we tend to think about food. Thatâ€TMs understandable. We think about vegetables and dairy and meat—all for consumption. But more and more, farmers are using their ground and their livestock for other things, and in the case of Little Seed Farm, those “other things” are skincare products.

James and Eileen Ray—the farmers in question—started their lives together in New York City, both with different jobs (James in finance and Eileen in fashion). After moving around the city for a while—to make a long story short—they realized that they were ready to move away from the city and cultivate their interest in farming by diving headfirst into the field. They happened upon a farm in Tennessee, made an offer and moved shortly thereafter.

Goatsâ€TM milk soap (both bars and liquid), healing hand balm, botanical butter, elasticity serum, herbal lip salves—these are just some of the things that the Rays make out of the yield from their ground and their goats. Itâ€TMs all impressive and creative, and itâ€TMs beautifully packaged.

But whatâ€TMs most interesting is their commitment to sustainability. I know what youâ€TMre thinking: “Sustainabilityâ€TMs â€~inâ€TM right now—and yeah itâ€TMs cool—but itâ€TMs not new.” Well, thatâ€TMs true. The Rays practice humane goat-ownership and they use nature to guide their husbandry practices. All of their packaging is eco-friendly and recyclable. They work with other organic farmers to get their ingredients. You get the idea.

The difference is that Little Seed Farm is about to get a $75,000 makeover. The money is for the installation of solar panels so that they can run their farm by harnessing the power of the sun. Weâ€TMve all seen this too, but itâ€TMs still incredibly (and unfortunately) rare in Tennessee.

Thankfully, not all of that money is coming straight out of their pockets. Small rural business owners and agricultural producers are eligible for the USDAâ€TMs Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grants. The grant covers 25% of the cost of installing energy upgrades such as solar. Eligible applicants can apply either as a small rural business or as an agricultural producer. An eligible small rural business is located in a city or town with a population under 50,000 people and outside metro areas. An eligible agricultural producer earns more than 50% of their income from farming. If a farm meets the producer requirement, the farm can be located in a rural or urban area. Program details are available at http://www.rd.usda.gov/tn. Additionally, the federal government will give the Rays and others in their position a 30% tax credit against the total cost of installation. Finally, the Tennessee Valley Authority contributes $1,000—not as much as the Feds, but itâ€TMs better than a sharp stick in the eye. Put that together with some personal funds, and itâ€TMs a carefully sewn quilt of funding, and the project should be complete by the end of August or early September.

But why do it? Plenty of people are happy to draw the line right past organic food and grass-fed livestock, and thereâ€TMs really nothing wrong with that. So, why did the Rays go further?

Itâ€TMs pretty simple:

“Itâ€TMs something we really wanted to do,” James said. “Our whole farm is environmentally friendly, sustainability oriented.” Of course, they hope that itâ€TMs going to make long-term business sense. But in all honesty, itâ€TMs mostly for the good of the sustainability cause.