Shelburne Farms cuts back on mowing to help the environment

Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 8:19 AM EDT
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SHELBURNE, Vt. (WCAX) - While Vermont is looking to continue efforts toward its overall climate goals, local communities are also playing their own part.

For Shelburne Farms, it was a budgetary issue that just so happened to fit in with their mission. They are now committed to a new look.

“But that’s a choice, an ecosystem choice, and I think most of us are proud of it, but it’s a little jarring to some people,” said Wally Allen, the buildings and grounds manager at Shelburne Farms.

The campus has committed to reimagined grounds for a sustainable future.

“Where do we need to mow the most and what do we want to look like? And there was a lot of discussion about what were we going to look like and how would people be thinking about it,” said Allen.

Thought turned to action.

Allen was able to implement a system reducing mowed acres by roughly 30%. Mowing time was reduced by about 50% and reducing fuel usage by 30-50% with the help of some electricity.

“We are in the process of getting two Electric Z mowers, zero-turn mowers, to replace two gas-powered units,” said Allen.

Those will be added to a set of electric tools for the smaller areas.

“It grows on you because you don’t even realize it until you run an electric mower and you don’t smell the gas coming off of it and then. This happened over in the farm barn a couple weeks ago, the guys came in with the electric mowers and then they left and the air was fresh, it was significant. I have been sharing that around with a bunch of people. It’s significant and it makes a difference every time you do it,” said Allen.

It’s a large upfront investment, but Shelburne Farms President Alec Webb says it’s worth it.

“A big part of what we are doing is doing our part to address climate change, and I think looking at our land management practices is a big part of that,” said Webb.

It might seem like a lot of unmowed areas but the reality of the situation is it’s a small drop in, quite literally, a very large lake. But Shelburne Farms says it doesn’t make it any less valuable.

“Addressing climate change is going to take a lot of local action around the world, so this is one area to reduce fossil fuel consumption and improve environmental quality,” said Webb.

The added grass in meadows is cutting carbon in the atmosphere, creating ecosystems for organisms and helping to reduce runoff into the lake.

“It gives us hope. I think that change is possible and through actions like this we can make a difference both locally and globally in terms of climate change,” said Webb.

So while Allen is enjoying his new equipment and evaluating its performance, he says its impact is going beyond the data.

“I’m glad we are in on it, I’m glad we are demonstrating it because people have already come in and seen us using it, and said, ‘Hey, I want to go do that,’” said Allen.

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