Look up Massachusetts in an old history textbook and you'll probably see America's Founding Fathers. Look up Massachusetts in a contemporary Encyclopedia and you'll probably see a splattering of GREEN. Two words spring to my mind: Sustainable Living. I may have left a piece of my heart out there- yup, it's laying in acres of grass next to one of the dozens of solar arrays.
I knew I was in for a treat when I signed up for a weekend in Western Massachusetts. Scenic mountains span the horizons of the region: this New Yorker who spends her week commuting and caught up in the fast pace of the city life will never take nature for granted. What I did not know is how green the state is! Massachusetts is one of the top states for solar. Its government is active in policy: incentives, rebates, and a quick return on investment are all bonuses. It's no wonder solar applications are common. The entire state is immersed in renewable energy programs and I'd love to share some glimpses because it is truly a lesson we can all learn from.
HYDROELECTRICITY IN HOLYOKE
Holyoke is a tight-knit community under its industrial layer, nestled on the western edge of the Connecticut River. The birthplace of Volleyball, "Paper City" holds a deeply-rooted history in paper-making-- sited by the water are paper mills. They ran on the dams nearby. While today many of these mills have been converted into alternate uses, faded painted signs of mills are indicative of these structures' former history. However, these mills weren't the only consumers of the dam's rich source of energy. Today, about 2/3 of Holyoke's annual electricity comes from a clean and renewable energy source: hydroelectricity! Read more about Holyoke's green initiatives here.
Pictured Below: Holyoke Dam
OFF THE GRID IN NORTHAMPTON
We spent the weekend living off the grid at this solar lodging in Western Massachusetts.
Ground mounted and roof mounted arrays comprise the entry elevation as you drive up. Personally speaking, the setting was reminiscent of factory production, with its bold panels facing the sun and visitors. The 'visibility' of the energy pumping into the home was almost equivalent to the enthusiasm of the homeowners. Their magnificent 'project' has evolved over the last decade. It was such a warm feeling to speak with locals who truly believe in harmonizing with nature: the owners- a designer builder and an artist- shared their sentiments on stewardship for the environment.
The home is truly off the grid: battery storage and generator for back-up power, and the water supply is connected to a local well.
The 'greenhouse' effect traps heat for the glass-enclosed space on the southern facade of the home. When the sliding glass doors open, the adjacent living spaces of the open floor plan can be warmed up.
Skylights reduce the dependency on artificial light and highlight beautiful architectural detailing and woodwork craft.
Businesses support local farming: everything is freshly grown in the area and distributed- how much more transparent can you get? Side note: Yum!
Solar array at Atkins Farms Country Market. Just one of many...!
As a resident from New York City, most of the installations I see are on private, expensive homes or city-owned buildings.. Seeing large applications of solar utilized for local uses was rejuvenating. It reminds us that every member of society- homeowners and businesses alike- should remain conscious of their impact on their immediate environment. These folks are a shining example of harnessing the power of the sun through good old-fashioned hard work.
VEGAN LIFESTYLE IN NORTHAMPTON
Traveling with a Vegan, I indulged in locally-sourced cuisine all weekend. Alright, I may have cheated a few times, but I had my share of Vegan food! Cafe Evolution, Bela Restaurant, Haymarket Cafe and Dobra Tea are just a handful of Vegan and Vegetarian eateries that line the vibrant life of Northampton.
So the Vegan lifestyle isn't for me, but it was a unique experience. I enjoyed browsing locally grown produce and talking to local businesses, who are conscious of what they eat and sell.
So we ventured outside of Western Massachusetts for a day and headed over to Boston. I discovered an electric charging station in the parking garage, and one street-side. I can't recall the last time I've seen one in New York City. No, this was not going to escape my attention, and yes, I was stoked. This was shortly after we scoped out the interiors of a Tesla at a local mall: electric cars for the win!
Western Massachusetts gives me hope. Self-sustaining communities are bringing down the country's greenhouse gas emissions by adopting sustainable practices: residents, businesses, utility companies, and government all actively partake in this lifestyle. I was incredibly motivated after my trip to Western Massachusetts because the locals are just AMAZING. They express an understanding of and love for the environment. Moreover THEY WALK THE WALK. By sharing some of my experiences, I hope I've convinced some of you to go visit the region. It's a simple life with centered around a solid value: take care of your environment, and it will take care of you.