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New fund aims to bring the benefits of solar power to low-income communities

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Source: The Virginia Pilot

A solar array in the South Norfolk area of Chesapeake.


When it opened in 1910, J.D. Miles & Sons got its start by installing tin roofs. Over the years, the family-owned South Norfolk company repaired houses throughout Hampton Roads, sometimes fixing up a home for three generations of family.

The roughly $100,000 array will be one of the first in Chesapeake’s historic South Norfolk community. For the company, the effort will nearly eliminate its electric bill.

The solar installation will be paid for through a new fund that aims to invest $750,000 to bring such energy to businesses and nonprofits in poor areas of Hampton Roads. The goal is to reduce utility costs and deliver renewable power to new communities.

Research shows poor households see fewer benefits from renewable energy and that, even when wealth is even, communities of color face an even steeper divide.

The family has weathered both the Great Depression and the Great Recession, said J.D. Miles, the fourth namesake of the company. In the process, they’ve built quite a reputation as evidenced by memorabilia from past presidents displayed in their lobby: a framed thank-you note from George H.W. Bush and a picture with Ronald Reagan.

Miles, who runs the company with his sister, credits his dad with growing the business.

“We’re trying to keep it going for another 100 years,” he said.

Part of that involves cutting their carbon footprint. They’re working on transitioning their current 30-vehicle fleet to all electric.

The solar array could help speed the process. Installation of the American-made panels is planned for the end of this month.

The fund itself started just a few months ago, shortly after Amundsen, along with a group of parents, helped the Norfolk Academy complete a major solar installation.

“To be able to stand on the roof and watch that solar go in was just incredibly uplifting and satisfying, and one of the best experiences of my life,” she said. “This was so concrete, like, ‘Look, we just had a big impact.’ I wanted to do more of that.”

So when she found herself with five weeks of vacation courtesy of the government shutdown and an unexpected windfall of capital gains, Amundsen got back to work. And she has an ambitious timeline: she hopes to finish all installations in 2019.

For Miles and the rest of the beneficiaries, the Norfolk Solar Qualified Opportunity Zone Fund will provide money for the panels and the installation. For the next seven years, Amundsen will be in charge of maintenance. The recipient will pay back the money using savings from reduced utility bills.

Then, after seven years, the installation will be sold to the organization at about 3% of the initial cost, at which point ownership will go to the business. Amundsen will make the rest of her money back, about 67%, from tax credits, she said.

These are the requirements to qualify for the fund: The properties have to be located in a “qualified opportunity zone,” like Berkeley in Norfolk or part of Dam Neck Corner in Virginia Beach.

For businesses, Virginia solar regulations state they must need a minimum of 50 kilowatts, which is about 150 panels, on 3,000 to 6,000 square feet of roof, Amundsen said. That precludes businesses with small roofs. Though money from the fund can’t be used for residential homes, Amundsen is looking at nonprofits and churches in such zones.

Amundsen said that after the seven-year payment is completed, a $100,000 array will save a business around $8,000 a year.

The Virginia Beach-based Convert Solar will install the panels and train locals in the process, said Ryan Healy, project manager for the company. It’s a continuation of the fund’s main objective, Healy explained: Spreading solar power to communities for the first time.

“It sets them up to enter the solar field with that initial education and on-the-job training,” he said. “We want to give the opportunity to people who actually reside in the zone.”

Though J.D. Miles & Sons is based in Chesapeake and Amundsen is working on another deal for an array in Virginia Beach, she wants to keep the focus in Norfolk.

“(It) is my home city and I have a lot of bonds in a lot of those neighborhoods,” she said.

In addition to cutting utility bills of businesses in low-income areas, she wants to inspire more people to start funds for local qualified opportunity zones and also to put up solar panels.

For Miles, 46, the latter was a big draw. He’s been on too many roofs to count and says he can’t remember seeing any solar arrays in his community.

While he admits the significantly reduced bills are a welcome bonus, he thinks the biggest impact could come from allowing neighborhoods to see solar roofs in their community.

“We want to save money, we want to save the environment and we want to do our part,” Miles said. “And I think you need to lead by example.”

Peter Coutu,

Rain harvesting is a great way to sustainable use natural resources, save money and improve the environment. While you have many choices were you can get solar power / panels, solar panels are another way to harvest natural resources? What ways do you harvest natural resources? What ways do you recycle resources? What have been the benefits to you?

Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing!

If these articles have been helpful to you and yours, give a donation to Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Ezine today.

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Sow What! The Basics of Sowing

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Sometimes its good to get back to the basics so, lets talk about the basics of sowing. Sowing is the beginning of gardening. After you prepare the soil, form your rows and select your seeds, one must sow the seeds in order to get started. There are a few different ways to sow. One can have a water garden, container garden, a garden with beds, a garden in a greenhouse or in the ground directly. This basically boils down to 3 forms of sowing: in a container. That may include a pot or a bed. Or in the ground. Or in water. We will be covering the 2 main ways to sow: either in the ground directly or in a container such as a pot or a bed. This will cover the basics, should you require more information just post a comment and we will give you more specific details.

Sowing in a Container

Sowing in a container involves selecting soil rather than preparing the soil on the ground. You will also have to select a container. Its important that your container has a hole in the bottom to allow for water to drain. This prevents over watering. We are partial to clay pots because its organic and ideal. Metal can scorch a plant. Glass can be difficult to find but a good choice. Plastic is just not apart of our Organic Journey. The clay pot can be glazed or not. It is recommended that your tray be glazed to prevent the surface your container is on from getting moist from the water from your pot. Choose a location with the proper amount of light. Give your plant the proper amount of water and fertilize the soil so the plant can continue to pull nutrients from the soil.

Sowing in the Ground Directly

Sowing in the ground directly involves tilling, fertilizing and forming the soil into rows that will allow enough space for specific plants to grow. Each plant will need a different amount of space. Preparing the ground soil is a lot more involved since it is not all in the bag. This can get very involved including testing the soil, composting and green manures. Similar to container gardening you want to give your plants the correct amount of water and light for the plant as well as fertilize your soil on a regular basis to replenish the soil with nutrients as the plants pull the nutrients they need. This is why crop rotation is popular with farmers because different plants will pull different nutrients from the soil. To even this process out they move crops around to prevent one nutrient from being pulled from a particular spot until there is not more.

Many people are beginning gardens because of COVID 19. Now is the time to get started! What would be the benefit to you and your family to start a garden? How much do you think you can save on your grocery bill? How much do you think you could save by obtaining a plant from us to maintain and continually harvest?

Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing!

If these articles have been helpful to you and yours, give a donation to Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Ezine today.

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sowing flower seeds shidonna raven garden and cook
These are the seeds from MiMi’s Flower
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Cynoglossum amabile flower
Cynoglossum amabile flower
Today Mimi’s plant is bigger than this!
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Why grow your own food?

5 Reasons to GROW Your Own Food NOW! Prepping via Gardening

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Why grow your own food
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Can you think of any reasons why people should grow their own food? When will you start growing your own food. We recommend starting small, like in your kitchen or on your patio. We also recommend starting with one plant and going from there. What plant will you choose to start with? As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep growing.

If these articles have been helpful to you and yours, give a donation to Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Ezine today.

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Fresh Foods

Longer Life for Fruits & Vegetables | Consumer Reports

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Longer Life for Fruits and Vegetable
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Making more frequent trips to the grocery store is another way to keep your sources of food fresh. Although Consumer Reports gives us some good tips on keeping food fresh. Curious how to best store a food not found in the consumer report? Just Ask? What did you learn? How can you keep your foods fresher and prevent disease and bad bacteria from food? As always you are the best part of what we do. Stay healthy.

If these articles have been helpful to you and yours, give a donation to Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Ezine today.

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Look at the Time you Saved me

Oscillating Sprinkler

Eliot Coleman and many other farmers have automated systems that afford them the freedom to do many other things in their farms and gardens. As we go along we have tried to come up with things that will also save us time amongst other savings. The Soil Block is one thing that saved us time, space, money and resources. The savings from the Soil Blocks seemed endless. One thing that is found on farms and in some gardens as well as greenhouses is some type of water system. It may be a multi source system. It could be from over head. It could be a ground level. It could come from underneath the plant.

Needless to say there are several ways to water your plants. For our size garden an oscillating sprinkler that covers 3,000 square feet seemed plenty. Things are never nearly as much as they might sound when you are thinking in the grand scheme of things. For a mere $8 we plan on saving a lot of time. During those hot summer days when the sky does not open up to offer some relief through rain, we will be pulling the sprinkler out.

It is a great way to get other things done. You can put it on for a pre determined amount of time at night when the sun is less likely to evaporate the much needed water. Or you can set it out during the early morning while you work in the garden. Whichever you choose, it will be a worthy investment and time saver. We could not be more thrilled. It will also help those who are not used to watering plants, when you are away and someone else has to do it.

What are some ways you save time in your garden whether outdoors or indoors? What automated systems are available to you? Don’t know. Tell us what you will be watering and where and we will get back to you with an answer. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing.

If these articles have been helpful to you and yours, give a donation to Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Ezine today.

Oscillating Sprinkler

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Soil Blocks

We heard about Soil Blocks from another talented farmer and gardener. We were not sure what to think. But from all that we heard, we were excited to give them a try. Soil Blocks come in different shapes and sizes. Which one you use (size) is dependent largely on the size of your seed and plant. While they also can be used for seedlings that grow in size. Just like when you put a seed that is grown into a plant into a larger pot so that it can grow bigger. It is the same concept. There are Soil Blocks and Soil Pellets, which is largely dependent on the shape. Soil Blocks can either be made or purchased. We ventured out in this Corona climate and found Soil Pellets, which we have found to be quit nice.

The seeds are placed in the center of the flat discs. The discs are placed in a tray. We have been moving from plastic trays to clay trays to be more true to our organic pursuits. Clay, we have found, is excellent in disease prevention as well as drainage, especially when there is a hole at the bottom of the pot for drainage. Once your seeds are in place you water the discs, follow the directions on your package, from the bottom (because they are sitting in some type of tray). In the case of our pellets you must be careful to water from the bottom so the seeds do not fall out from the disc. The disc grows about an inch to an inch and a half in height becoming cylinders. The soil medium grows around the hole where your seeds are and effectively buries them in the soil for you.

Our instructions advised us to water the Soil Blocks whenever the soil medium is a light brown. We are still trying to figure out a good labeling system. For now we just used a little paper. We liked the Soil Blocks for several reasons:

  • Saves Money – Because you are using less soil and no pots. You save a tremendous amount of money. We got 36 pellets for around $4.
  • Saves Space – Because you are not using pots and the space the Soil Blocks takes up are considerably less. You save on space and then can spread natural resources such as water, sunlight and soil much better.
  • Saves Stress – Because you do not have to remove transplants from pots, you save on stress plants experience when you transplant them. The entire Soil Block is placed right in the soil. If you have inside contained plants, when moving from say a larger pot from a smaller pot because your plant is growing, the transplant process is a lot easier and also reduces plant stress.
  • Save Time – Because your Soil Blocks do not have to be watered everyday, you save a tremendous amount of time. When it rains outside and your Soil Block are moist inside, you have a day off from watering.

We have not yet transplanted our Soil Blocks. Nor have our seeds grown into plants yet. Check back. We will keep you posted. A few have sprouted. We expect the transplant process to go very well. Another note, the plant roots will be poised to settle in their new homes / the surrounding soil as long as they do not sit to long in the Soil Blocks. Unlike plants in pots whose roots can begin to circle the pot as they grow in search of new soil and resources.

We are all about sustainability so when we saw these clay trays we knew that we could re purpose them when all the plants are in the ground and out of the mini greenhouse. In our garden we have a few melons and squashes. It is recommended that some of them will need to be raised off the ground to prevent rot and other unseen issues. So when we are done with the clay trays in the greenhouse, we will use them to lift our melons off the ground. Wood would probably be easier and more cost effective. However, wood is susceptible to mold and may not resolve the issue we are trying to address.

The Soil Blocks have been a game changer for us. Thus far, we highly recommend them. How can Soil Blocks help you get your own garden started? Try them out and let us know what you think. Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing!

If these articles have been helpful to you and yours, give a donation to Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Ezine today.

Soil Pellets (Soil Blocks)
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