For more than 35 years, a California walnut farmer has led the sustainability revolution by first going organic and then becoming a model of water conservation.

But Russ Lester also set out to make his Dixon Ridge Farm energy self-sufficient. This meant pushing California, often considered a national leader on environmental issues, to keep up with him.

When Lester learned of technology that could convert walnut shells into clean-burning bio-gas, he had to lobby the state to recognize this energy as renewable.

He was motivated by both the threat of global warming, and by the pessimists who said that it’s impossible for people to solve this problem in the near future.

Lester: “In 2007 I set a goal to make my processing facility energy self-sufficient in five years. That came out of a frustration of reading a lot of books that said we couldn’t do these things until 30, 40, 50 years from then. I really disagreed. I thought we could do it sooner and realized that I should be doing it myself, I wanted to show that it could happen a lot quicker.”

Lester met his goal. Today, just six years later, Dixon Ridge Farm produces more renewable energy than it uses, demonstrating that there’s no time like the present to innovate climate solutions.

Photo: Walnut shells produced as combustible gas are used as fuel in generator to produce electricity for dehydration and for warming buildings. (source: Dixon Ridge video screenshot).

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Sara Peach

Sara Peach is the Senior Editor of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist, and...