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T.S. Smith & Sons team up with Solair

T.S. Smith and Sons melds history with true-friendly adaptation

Article in Going Green on Delmarva

By Monica Scott

“We’re the apple in the Apple Scrapple festival,” explained Charles Walton “Charlie” Smith III of T.S. Smith and Sons in Bridgeville, Del. While he noted the festival is put on by the Bridgeville Historical Society, he said T.S. Smith & Sons’ part in it helps both the farm and the town with visibility.

He said, with a chuckle, “30,000 people in Bridgeville on a fall weekend, it’s not bad.”

Smith, along with his brothers Tom and Matt, owns and grows for the century farm established in 1907 by their great-grandfather, Thomas Sterling (T.S.) Smith. They farm between 800 and 1,000 acres – some owned and some leased – and offer up some of the most popular varieties of apples, peaches and nectarines, as well as asparagus, watermelon, sweet corn, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, squash and green peppers. And, of course, their ever-popular apple-cider doughnuts.

“They have some great apple doughnuts,” offered repeat customer Tim Banks of Bridgeville.

Just recently, after an energy audit, T.S. Smith & Sons merged that long history of being a century farm and community staple and added the modern marvel of solar panels to produce energy for their cold-storage facility – the biggest source of their energy usage. The 150 ground-mounted solar panels will produce about 43 kw of power, enough to produce ample energy for the storage unit and then some, all while helping them save on their $25,000 yearly electric bill.

“The incentives made it attractive,” admitted Smith, mentioning the federal tax credit of 30 percent and a 25 percent state grant, which make it possible to finance a little less than half of the actual cost of the system. And, while it is still quite an investment, Smith said he believes it is worth it – especially considering the business he’s in.

“It’s got to be less risky than farming,” he said. “And we are reducing our carbon footprint. That’s important to me.”

Also important is making sure the people who care as much as they do get the message about all they are doing.

“Our take on it is we thought out consumers are obviously coming to buy the fresh produce… and farmers are always in the news about the runoff, etc. But on a whole, farmers aren’t bad people,” added Matt Smith. “We are on the cutting edge of this green technology. If people can see that they are making a living and see we are trying to make a living too, and it looks good environmentally, hopefully, those same people will support us.”

With his degree in agriculture and a minor in ecology, the environment had always held a special place in Charlie Smith’s heart. And his environment – the farm – is something he especially wants to take care of for generations to come.

“Obviously the economic incentives are there, but the environmental considerations are just icing on the cake,” he said. “To be using less fossil fuels, having less runoff because of less fertilizer and pesticides are used… growing up here, this is what draws a kid back here, “ he said, pointing to the acres of fruit trees. “My dad is still active on the farm, and he’s 84.”

Smith pointed out that his father’s house is considered a “historical structure,” and he takes pride in both that history and the cutting edge technology of the solar panels, as well as their other conservation efforts.

“The farm market was built in 1928. There’s a lot of history going from something like this to back here,” he added, pointing from the farm market to the newly installed solar panels that are top-of-the-line modern and hooked up online, with immediate feedback and information, as well as micro-inverters on each panel that can be checked via computer.

The farm is also located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and the stream that runs through it is a tributary of the headwaters of the Nanticoke River. With such wondrous natural resources all around, it’s hard for someone like Smith and his brothers to not want to conserve it the best they can.

In addition to the panels, the farm has had a conversion to trickle irrigation to save water, prevent runoff and to save on fossil fuel and emissions, which can be the difference between using 500 to 600 gallons of water per minute and 40 gallons per minute. They also participate in stewardship programs to establish buffers, create habitat and limit production near streams, and use no-till and minimum-tillage farming practices and crop rotation.

They also use integrated pest management to keep the “good “ bugs while limiting the need for pesticides for the “bad” ones, and reuse apple trees for wood, as well as baskets, crates and other items, and have an aim to move to biodegradable bags and to encourage the use of reusable shopping bags in their farm market.

The farm market is open daily from late April through December, and they offer fresh produce, as well as flowers, fresh pressed apple cider (beginning in September), apple cider doughnuts baked daily, jams, jellies and honey. This year, they will offer you-pick peaches, apples and pumpkins, as well as school and group tours.

In addition to selling wholesale, five of the local WalMarts carry their fruits and vegetables in season and much of their excess fruit goes to Ziegler’s in nearby Pennsylvania to make apple cider.

T.S. Smith and Sons will celebrate their solar panel installation with a ribbon-cutting and grand opening May 6 and 7, and everyone is welcome.

While maybe not the embodiment of your “typical” environmentalist, Smith sees the “big picture,” for sure.

“I wouldn’t define myself as a tree hugger,” he concluded. “But good planets are hard to find.”

In a town whose tagline is “Bridgeville: If you lived here, you’d be home now,” it doesn’t get much simpler than that.

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