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Success Stories

Beginning Farmers Use REAP Grant to Make Their Christmas Tree Farm Greener

Leigh Hallett
Clean Energy
Made in Rural America
Renewable Energy
Small Business
Molly and Jesse of Piper Mountain Christmas Trees stand in front of a vintage blue pickup truck with their two children. In the background there is a red barn and a distant hill.

Molly Livingston and Jesse Jimerson were living in Northern Nevada while looking for an opportunity to get into farming. When they heard that Piper Mountain Christmas Tree Farm in Newburgh, Maine was for sale, they were interested.

The farm had been in business since 1978 and boasted 30 acres of choose-and-cut Balsam Fir Christmas trees. Located about 15 miles from the eastern Maine city of Bangor and about 25 miles from the Maine coast, Newburgh seemed like a good place to raise a growing family. The farm was well-established with solid infrastructure and loyal clientele. Molly and Jesse purchased the place in 2022.

Operated by the same family for 50 years, Piper Mountain had seen just one other owner before being purchased by the young farmers. Though it was a solid farm in a great location, Molly and Jesse knew they faced a lot of work. One of their first steps was to apply to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Journeyperson Program, a 2 year business support program “for beginning farmers and farmworkers who are serious about operating farm businesses in Maine that will make contributions to the agricultural community.” They were admitted to the program in 2023 and have learned many things, including strategies to render the farm more climate-smart and sustainable.

A brown and white dog stands in the foreground with a large red barn in the background. The bard has a partially installed solar array on the roof.
The farm's solar panels were installed during the summer of 2023 (shown here partially installed). 

One tactic Molly and Jesse developed through their work with MOFGA was to improve the farm’s soil health using beneficial cover crops and other no-spray methods. They've been adapting this strategy for their farm. On the retail side of the business, they have been moving away from Styrofoam products, eliminating foam cups from their cider and donut stand and foregoing synthetic floral foam. (The farm now uses biodegradable Agrawool in its holiday arrangements.) To reduce their energy consumption, they installed heat pumps and replaced much of the lighting with energy-efficient LED bulbs.

Another resource they learned of through their MOFGA Journeyperson network was USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Molly and Jesse hadn’t realized there was a grant program to help farmers access solar energy. After noticing how many other farms had solar arrays, they were glad to learn there is a federal grant program to help cover costs. Suddenly their long-term plan to run the farm on solar energy seemed “totally doable” in their second year of farming. They found a local solar company, applied to USDA, and received the good news that they had won a grant.

Their 26kW project was completed in July of 2023 and they had visions of soon reaping enough electricity to power the entire farm from their large rooftop array. Unfortunately, Molly and Jesse still had to deal with the challenges of rural utilities. Their farm is in eastern Maine, where the local utility company operates outdated infrastructure and struggles to connect solar projects. Though their solar company had completed installing their rooftop photovoltaic panels in July 2023, unexpectedly the utility company wouldn’t allow them to turn on the system at full capacity and would not provide a timeline for when the necessary upgrades (installation of a common 25kva transformer) would be complete.

The solar array on the roof of the Piper Mountain barn is seen from the rooftop looking down at the yard with the house in the distant background.
SolarLogix of Belfast installed Molly and Jesse's solar photovoltaic system and provided this photo. 

Fortunately, Molly and Jesse had partnered with Belfast-based SolarLogix on the project. With persistence from the farmers and expertise and commitment from the solar company, the utility company eventually connected the farm's new rooftop photovoltaic system to the grid in September (having lost a couple months of peak solar generation).

However, they still weren’t permitted to operate the system at full capacity because the utility company said the local infrastructure needed improvements. Piper Mountain contributed over $1500 towards the cost of a new transformer on the utility company’s grid. Month after month passed by. Meanwhile, the farm’s peak season arrived, and still they kept parrying with the utility company.

Finally, in April 2024, more than nine months after the photovoltaic panel installation was completed, the utility company installed the new transformer, allowing Piper Mountain Christmas Tree Farm to fully utilize its 26kW solar array. SolarLogix was there until the finish line, applying pressure to a utility company that might otherwise have let the situation coast indefinitely. At last the farm could begin operating fully on solar power. The system should provide 100% of the business’s energy needs and effectively will offset the equivalent of 18,873 pounds of coal per year.

Transitioning to solar was the largest project for us to tackle on our list of goals we had for our first few years of owning the farm, but the most important,” says Molly. “Getting away from fossil fuels and investing in the future of both the business and environment is a personal belief we wanted our business to reflect, and our customers love it too.”

Molly and Jess of Piper Mountain Christmas Tree Farm stand in front of their barn with USDA Rural Development State Director Rhiannon Hampson.
USDA Rural Development Maine State Director Rhiannon Hampson (r) visited Piper Mountain Christmas Tree Farm to celebrate Earth Day 2024. Co-owners Molly Livingston and Jesse Jimerson are pictured with her.

About the farm: Piper Mountain Christmas Tree Farm is located at 27 Trundy Rd. in Newburgh, ME (about 25 minutes southeast of Bangor). The farm is open from Wednesday-Sunday seasonally. During the holidays they offer horse drawn carriage rides on Saturdays; check their social media and website (https://pipermtn.com/) for details. The farm offers free shipping of wreaths, gift packages, and other items to the continental states.

Obligation Amount:
Year(s) of Obligation:
Congressional District:
  • Maine: District 2