While it hasn’t been officially confirmed, it’s quite likely that Maine’s very own Cozy Acres Greenhouse is the first year-round heated greenhouse with zero emissions. Owner Jeff Marstaller is thrilled about the attention that his fully “green” greenhouse is getting from local media and industry publications like Greenhouse Grower.
Marstaller and his wife Marianne own 8 wholesale greenhouses in the area, but the zero emissions one built in 2013 in North Yarmouth has been quite the undertaking. “I don’t consider myself an activist, but we wanted to do our part to reduce the need of burning of fossil fuels, and reduce the emissions,” he says.
After hearing about the Maine Farms for the Future program, the Marstallers started dabbling with the idea of building a greenhouse from scratch that utilized solar and geothermal energy. “In the first phase, you are given $6,000 to investigate how you want to improve your biz. If the committee thinks it’s a viable project, you get additional funding in the second phase,” explains Marstaller.
With that state program in his corner, Marstaller was determined to try to make his idea come to life, but he knew he’d need some more financial assistance. “We could have put up 7 conventional greenhouses for the price of this one,” he explains. “A greenhouse uses so much energy compared to a home that has 6 inches of insulation.”
Lucky for him, he was approved for a grant from the Rural Energy for America Program, which funds 25 percent of the energy portion of improving a business. “Once we had that approved, the whole thing kind of gelled,” says Marstaller.
Today, the facility is powered by the sun, via photovoltaic panels, and the earth supplies the heat, through a horizontal, closed-loop geothermal system. Although it’s complicated to figure out how long it will take to earn back their investment, Marstaller expects that day to come within 5 to 8 years. ”Our philosophy is once we get the photovoltaic system paid for, we see everything ahead of us being a greenhouse without electricity cost.”
As for future plans, Marstaller says that his progressive greenhouse was built with expansion in mind, even though he doesn’t anticipate expanding it himself. “I’m 60 years old. We’re going to use it to head into our slow down years. If our property looks like it’s on the forefront, someday we’ll be selling and maybe this will draw a potential buyer,” he says.
Beyond his future retirement plans, it’s Marstaller’s hope that as news spreads about his greenhouse, it might inspire others to follow his lead. He imagines that if his wholesale house could create a buzz, a retail greenhouse in which everything is grown without emissions would be able to generate even more public support. “I think everyone driving a Prius would drive the extra miles to such a greenhouse. I’m surprised more retail places don’t do more green, and then use it in their marketing,” he says.