Troubled by falling prices for their products, farmers in a southern German town sought an alternative to agriculture. They found it, too, and now supply themselves and their region with environmentally friendly power.
The Reinbold farm is one of the many in Freiamt that produce energy instead of food
Freiamt's farmers took advantage of laws that promote renewable energy
But that's not Schneider's only environmentally friendly project. The extra warmth exuded by his cows' milk, which is cooled from 38 to four degrees Celsius (100 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit), is used to heat the water his farm uses. And one of the 100 solar power installations that characterize the town is located on his roof.
Nowadays the community produces far more power than it actually needs. Visitors from Germany and abroad make their way to Freiamt to see for themselves how the town has embraced alternative energies.
Biofuel better than bulls
The Reinbolds also moved away from conventional farming and converted their farm into a renewable energy power plant. The family uses generators to burn liquid dung and organic raw materials such as rapeseed, corn and grass, and they sell the energy they produce.
The fact that German utilities are obliged by law to buy power from renewable sources at fixed prices gives the farmers security that selling crops or livestock can't.
The Reinbolds spent 600,000 euros ($809,000) on their biofuel plant, and they expect the investment to have paid itself off in 15 years.
"Without the fixed electricity price, the 10 cents for electricity from renewable energies, we couldn't have done it," said Inge Reinbold, adding that the family had already been burned once. After investing in a new stall for bulls in the 1980s and earning 8 deutsche marks (4.09 euros) per kilo for their beef, the BSE crisis left them only earning half that.
A different approach to nature
Now, five years after shifting their operations, the Reinbolds' plant generates more than one million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. They calculated that the energy the farm produced in one year with the biofuel plant had would have required 300,000 liters (79,000 gallons) of heating oil.
The Reinbolds' son, Harald, who will one day take over the farm, said he was pleased his family managed to make itself independent of fluctuating food prices and that it also reflected his own attitude toward the environment.
He is clearly not alone.
"The people here are concerned with traditional values," said Freimut Mayor Hannelore Reinbold-Mesch. "They're connected to nature; they have always lived with nature, harvested its fruits. And that's where a change simply occurred. What used to be cultivating the land is today renewable energies."