Solar farms and the nation’s largest state fair

Photo credit: Dennis Schroeder / NREL

With harvests well underway across the country, it’s state fair season in most states. The largest of these spectacles of pumpkin contests, butter carvings, concessions, entertainment, and educational exhibits, is the Minnesota State Fair. Already the nation’s most widely popular, the Minnesota State Fair broke its own attendance record this year, exceeding 2 million attendees over 12 days. Even the New York Times took notice with a lengthy profile.

With solar farms popping up throughout the region at an accelerating rate, this year’s fair featured two exhibits on how solar farms make productive use of the land under and around the panels. In the Eco-Experience Building, the Minnesota Department of Commerce exhibited a full-size set of panels complete with live (in pots) native flowers and grasses around and underneath, and full-size wooden beehives from MannLake. In the Horticulture & Agriculture Building, Connexus Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Fresh Energy shared a display about how solar farms can significantly benefit the pollinators we depend on for our favorite State Fair foods.

Fresh Energy has become a nationally-recognized source of expert knowledge on solar sites planted with deep-rooted native flowers and grasses that capture and filter storm water, build topsoil, and provide abundant and healthy food for bees and other insects that are valuable to agriculture. Since 2016, Fresh Energy has helped shape statewide standards for pollinator friendly solar in a growing number of states.

Here are a selection of photos from the exhibits as well as a recording of a public event moderated by Fresh Energy’s Rob Davis in the Horticulture & Agriculture Building about pollinator-friendly solar farms.


We are grateful to the following partners and collaborators on this project:

Many thanks to Arlene Birt and the team at Background Stories for their expert execution in creating the pollinator-friendly solar farm dimensional display.

The exhibit was made possible at the invitation of The Common Table, an activated network of food and design professionals working together to promote local food.

Thank you MannLake for your donation of the Made-in-Minnesota wooden beehive and all your work in support of habitat for pollinators.

And thanks to speakers from Connexus EnergyUMN Bee Lab,  National Renewable Energy Laboratory56 Brewing, and Bare Honey for your participation and partnership.

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