Carole and Gary Wooden have deep roots in Benton County where both went to school and worked for many years. Carole recalls picking fruit on her family’s orchards in the valley. They have seen the region grow and change with time.
The Wooden family properties include multiple large wheat farming operations. Some of their land was handed down from Gary’s family, and some was purchased after Gary and Carole sold their engineering and manufacturing business. They partner with professional operators to manage the farming operations.
“Having that land available and useable for farming is important to us. The production of grain crops is a good thing,” said Jeff Wooden, Gary and Carole’s son. “Having good operators there is really critical because, as we all know, farming is hard work. It’s a calling.”
Keeping as much land in operation for food production is something that the Wooden family takes very seriously. It’s not only a family legacy, but also an opportunity to support farming livelihoods. They are also deeply passionate about using their land to do more for the region.
That’s why Gary and Carole are happy to be working with Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center to lease a small portion of their land for wind and solar power installations. Leasing land for wind and solar installations will provide additional income to support their farming operations.
“With this project, we can invest in land improvements to support the operation and farming jobs. Having that stable income allows us to do more to maintain our structures and equipment which benefit our operators,” said Gary.
The family has been watching closely how farm production has changed with time. 2021 brought hot temperatures and little rain. This combination meant that their farms, like so many others across the west, had a significant drop in crop yield. But it’s not just a single-year event that the Woodens are concerned about.
“These heat events are more and more common as the effects of global climate change play out,” said Gary. “Farming is very cyclical, and not a stable income stream. The farming business is not getting easier.”
“If we can help farms operate with more revenue while providing clean renewable energy – it’s a win-win for everyone,” added Carole. “We believe in clean energy and have a responsibility to the land and people here. That’s why we support this project.”
As the Woodens consider the future of their land, they look at wind and solar power as valuable resources that co-mingle with their wheat farming operations to make the best use of the land.
Leveraging the resources based on the places that exist makes the most sense. Where there is water, we put hydropower, where there is sun and wind, we put solar and wind power.”
The Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center will occupy a small portion of our farming acreage for solar installations and wind turbines, a fraction of the total acreage across the Wooden farm properties. The Woodens are confident that the new energy installations will not burden, but rather support their farming.
“It’s a great approach and I’m all for that energy production with solar and wind,” said Gary. “The impact on the farming isn’t significant and there are many benefits.”
Carole and Gary look forward to seeing the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center Project move forward in their lifetimes. They plan to pass the land down to their children, and then the land would be passed to the next generation – keeping their family legacy alive and well for the future.
“We feel very honored and proud of the fact that we could secure the land that we did and have a vested interest in the area and land,” said Carole. “We’re all in this together. We care about this region and its health and vitality for the future.”
“This is a family legacy,” said Jeff. “I hope that my children will love the land as much as my parents do and find value in making something meaningful with it.”