GODWIN — Inside an office on his Sampson County farm, Tom Jackson looked out the window and pointed at his home, describing the movements of the sun.
“In the winter, the sun comes up way back in the east and it goes way across the sky and it shines right in my house,” he said, slowly moving his arm as he described the process. “In the summer it comes up further around the west and goes overhead and throws that shadow down.”
Jackson and his wife, Jan Mann, are looking forward to saving money through a recent installment of a solar panel completed by NC Solar Now.
According to NC Solar Now, the Jacksons are the first family in the county to obtain a residential permit. Their 1,400 square-foot house was built as a passive solar house, to collect heat in the winter and to reject it in the summer.
“Have you ever parked your car in the summer and you get in it and it’s nice and warm?” Jackson questioned. “It’s the same principle.”
“As the earth turn on its axis, it turns my heat up and down automatically,” he added. “It makes your house nice and bright inside. You have all that glass so you’re aware what the weather is doing out there. It just puts you more in touch with the outside world, even if you’re not out there.”
The Jacksons wanted to produce their own electricity, but at the time, electric solar was a new process. As the years have passed, electric rates have increased, and the cost of solar power has decreased.
“The cost came down for solar and the cost went up for fuel produced energy,” he said. “It finally got to a point where we felt like it was economically feasible.”
With an electric bill running at $500 per month, the family decided to invest in the solar system, a means, they thought, to save money. During the installment, he took note of NC Power Now’s slogan “Save More than Just the Planet.”
“Our investment should bring us back about $500 in savings,” he said. “As Franklin pointed out ‘a penny saved is a penny earned.’”
They hope it will encourage their neighbors to do likewise.
“When you can make conservation measures economically positive for people, I think that’s an elegant solution for an increasing problem,” he said. “We are running out of some resources.”
Jackson said the solar energy is free and does not contaminate the environment.
“I grew up on a farm, and I know you can’t put but so many hogs in a pen before they start to die,” Jackson said. “I think we’re getting too many hogs in the pen here and we got to find some way to save our natural resources so we can survive.”
When it comes to his farm and the environment, he’s thinking about the future.
“I’m not just interested in living comfortably here on the farm, but I’m interested in my grandson living comfortable and his children.”
His great-grandfather once lived in his office and his grandmother was born there, too.
“If they lived how we were living,” he said, his great-grandparents likely wouldn’t have survived. “They weren’t throwing away three garbage cans full of trash a week and they weren’t burning gallons of fuel and putting carbon in the air to make it hotter.”
Jackson understands the importance of modern technology, but he wants more people to become aware of the environment.
“We need to save the stuff we can’t make,” Jackson said. “You can’t make water; you can’t make trees or even dirt. If we don’t save our forest, top soil or our water, how are we going to live?”
It’s a question Jackson said that is never answered. It’s a worry for him. It’s no way to live, he admonished.
“It seems like the political or corporate structure has no more interest in anything than a hog has about where his corn is coming, except the bottom line,” he said.
Jackson said they’re going to save the county, state and nation money by not having to clean up “dirty” sources of energy.
The family is currently waiting for Duke Energy to install a meter to measure the energy which is suited for the installed system.
Some of the features of the farm include a country guest house and outdoor spaces for retreats and weddings. The 150-acre family farm has been in his family since Thomas Jefferson was president. He and his wife farm about 10 acres.
“Everything I know about farming is not very useful because everything has changed,” he said. “It’s all mechanical and chemical. It used to be hand labor and a little bit of plowing.”
He lived on the farm, but was absent for about 20 years while he worked as a journalist and college professor. They moved back to Sampson County about four years ago with a goal to pay the expenses of the farm. That could be done with commodity crops. He said that comes along with treating it like a business and dealing with legal documents.
“Plants are not boring,” he said. “Government documents are.”
They decided to operate small scale ventures. Jan operated a pottery business, but it faded away when she became older.
He later sold Irish potatoes, melons, greens and other unique crops such as arugula and edible flowers.
An open house is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon July 26 at 13902 Dunn Road, Godwin. Representatives from NC Solar Now will be available to answer questions about the system.
“We know the sun has more energy than we could use in a million years,” he said. “It comes to us every single day, free of charge. All we have to do is reach out there and grab it.”