Fork to Farm Grant Update: Black Mesa Ranch Powers Up

Editor’s Note: This past fall, to celebrate the 15th anniversary of our Farm to Fork program, Bon Appétit gave away $50,000 in grants to our local farmers, fishermen, and artisans around the country to help them grow their business.The 10 “Fork to Farm” grant recipients were selected from 25 finalists by our guests and teams at all our locations, with more than 26,000 people casting votes! Read all about the program and the winners here, or check out the previous updates.

David from Black Mesa Ranch

David Heininger from Black Mesa Ranch

Kathryn and David Heininger of Black Mesa Ranch’s dream project of an expanded solar array and cheese refrigeration unit has begun. The Snowflake, AZ–based couple submitted a grant application for upgrading the ranch’s aged cheese production capacity in two phases: Buy a new commercial refrigeration unit to convert into a cheese-aging “cave” and increase solar-generating capacity (the ranch is 100 percent off the grid!) to power the additional cave equipment. One phase is now completed, and the other is well under way.

Drilling for the new solar array

Drilling for the new solar array

In an age where everyday expenses constantly rise, Kathryn and David were thrilled to see solar costs at historic lows: The cost of the actual solar panels they purchased was down to about one-fifth of the cost per watt of their existing solar arrays, so they decided to optimize the project by purchasing far more than was necessary to power the cheese cave. They spent $5,390 on the panels and materials for constructing the array base and about $234 on equipment rental (concrete mixer and post hole auger). By doing much of the labor themselves and using a contractor primarily for the final assembly and electrical work, they kept the labor cost down for that phase of the project.

The second part of the project entails both the purchase and installation of the new cheese cave unit, as well as the significant redesign of their dairy kitchen to make room for it and improve the space functionality. Not wanting to tear apart their facilities during their busiest season of the year, they waited until recently to move forward with that phase. They now have their equipment unit choice narrowed down to two possibilities and are waiting to hear back from the manufacturers with answers to some questions regarding energy efficiency and accessories. Once they make the final decision, they hope to lay out around $2,000 for the equipment and add a few hundred for installation costs. They intend to complete the purchase and installation before the end of this month, and David credits Bon Appétit for being able to do “such a comprehensive and forward-thinking job.”