Growing Mingo County
“The goal of our operation is to supply jobs and economic opportunity to a community that has been devastated with economic decline from closed coal mines, and provide fresh, local, organic produce to areas with little access to fresh food.” says Lauren Cappello, the greenhouse manager at Sol Wind Energy LLC.
Sol Wind Energy is described by Lauren as “the first sustainable grow operation in Mingo County”, and it’s powered by a combination of wind, solar power, and rain collection. The project started when Daniel Hicks, the owner and CEO, engineered his newly patented windmill system. The system was constructed and welded by locally contracted employees, and the amount of energy that the windmills and solar panels produce is enough to power 3 commercial greenhouses, a chicken coop, and a processing building-- with enough left over to sell back to the power company.
Sol Wind is certainly making good on the promise to ease economic strain for the area. Their work allows them to train people throughout the community and provide jobs. “We’re reeducating the workforce to learn trades in the horticulture and green energy industry, and providing jobs that are sustainable long term for the community and the state,” Lauren says. “Green energy in combination with horticulture is a timeless industry that could supply our state with everlasting economic growth, and we hope to be at the forefront of that movement.”
Organic & Permaculture Techniques
“We use traditional organic and permaculture techniques in our growth system,” Lauren says. Permaculture describes techniques that closely mimic and utilize patterns and features found in nature. This includes integrating biological, cultural, and chemical pest control, rather than harmful and toxic pesticides. “The cultural control techniques we use are traditional permaculture techniques using trap plants to attract invasive insects, as well as deterrent plants...that insects avoid.” They also use beneficial insects to control the population of invasive insects-- that’s where biological control comes in. This allows them to maintain a strictly all-organic operation.
They also use organic fertilizers, allowing them to be environmentally sustainable. This includes waste from the 100+ chickens they are raising. They also raise mealworms and earthworms to compost, and to provide the chickens with a natural protein source. Thanks to this, and their compost pile, they are also able to go without producing food waste. “Anything that is considered plant waste is placed in our compost pile...and any fresh produce not sold at the markets are processed into canned items or eaten by the chickens or earthworms,” Lauren says. “We are a strict non-food waste operation.”
Sol Wind currently sells a variety of fresh produce items on weekly Saturday markets, including eggplant, peppers, swiss chard, and green beans. They also plan to begin selling squash, cabbage, and tomatoes. Later in 2021, they will begin selling gardening starter plants. In February they will sell a “first wave” of cool season crops, and a second wave of warm season crops will be sold in April.
They also offer canned pickled peppers, hand selected seed packets, and handmade spice blends. The spice blends are Lauren’s favorite item they sell. “My favorite thing we offer, which is totally unique to us, are our spice blends,” she says. “They’re made with dehydrated peppers and herbs from the greenhouses that are either leftover from the marker, or had small cosmetic blemishes.” The selection includes jalapeno ranch, hot italian, and cayenne chipotle BBQ, and they’ve been a hit with customers. “I get a kick out of all of us standing around coming up with ideas for new spice blends.”
For Lauren, the best thing about what she does is the support she’s received. “My favorite thing about being the manager at Sol Wind Energy is the support that I have from the main investors, Sam Kapourales and Daniel Hicks. They have trusted me through this entire process to help make the business successful,” she says. “I am forever grateful for their faith in me to take on all of the responsibilities of running a facility of this size.”
She also enjoys sharing her knowledge. “I have an extensive background in Horticultural Education, so sharing my knowledge with my employees has been amazing,” she says. “It is beyond meaningful to be a part of a project that I feel is benefiting individuals in the community, and spearheading a movement for our state.”
Want to learn more about Sol Wind Energy LLC? Visit Lauren and the crew for a Saturday market. Sol Wind is located on Airport Road in Williamson at the former Williamson Airport site. Don’t forget to check out their Facebook page for more information and to stay up to date on their activities!