Every Day is Earth Day: Sustainability at Biltmore
Written By Jean Sexton
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Sustainability is at the heart of what we do here at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. Earth Day is celebrated on April 22, but we treat every day as Earth Day.
“Biltmore prides itself on its commitment to environmental stewardship, and as a company, we are always searching for ways to make our business practices more sustainable,” says Kimber Jones, our Agriculture & Natural Resources Coordinator. One of Kimber’s primary responsibilities is leading our environmental programs.
“Earth Day is a great opportunity to recognize the work we already have done, as well as our continued dedication to being good stewards of this planet and the natural resources on the estate.”
Honoring George Vanderbilt’s Vision of Sustainability
When George Vanderbilt began planning his grand estate, his vision was twofold. First, he wanted to create a place where he could relax and entertain friends and family.
Second, he envisioned a self-sustaining estate that would nurture the land and its resources for years to come. From this vision came the nation’s first scientific forestry program and the beginning of a family focus on the environment.
We continue to honor his vision today by acting as good stewards of our land, forest, and livestock resources. Here are some highlights of our sustainability efforts here at Biltmore:
In the early years of Biltmore Estate, Frederick Law Olmsted recommended that George W. Vanderbilt use manure to fertilize and restore the depleted farmland he had purchased in Asheville, North Carolina. Over a century later, our teams at Biltmore operate a state-of-the-art composting facility that serves a vital role in converting waste into valuable, usable products to be used elsewhere on our 8,000-acre estate.
Cultivating Hydroponic Greens
To honor our legacy of agricultural excellence, the benefits of hydroponics are undeniable. In addition to higher and more consistent yields, the system is more efficient in protecting plants from pests and uses less water than standard field irrigation. We currently grow almost a dozen varieties of lettuce and other leafy greens in the estate hydroponic greenhouse.
Land is one of Biltmore’s most valuable resources, and to help preserve it more sustainably, larger pastures for livestock are divided into smaller paddocks with animals rotated through them every few days.
The practice of rotational grazing is a prime example of sustainability, allowing plants more time to regrow and replenish their root systems, increasing the quality and quantity of on-site foraging, reducing the need for labor-intensive harvesting, and increasing soil health for better agricultural outcomes.
Additionally, our goats eat invasive plant species such as autumn olive and porcelain berry. They are especially useful in keeping steep slopes trimmed and tidy, allowing maintenance crews to take on other projects and reducing some diesel fuel usage in equipment.
We have also embarked on an effort to support the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) by planting native milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) to provide vital habitat for this threatened species. Milkweed is the only plant on which monarchs lay their eggs—and it is the only plant that their young caterpillars eat before transforming into beautiful orange and black butterflies.
In becoming a certified Monarch Waystation, our hope is that as the monarchs’ path of migration takes them through Asheville and the mountains of Western North Carolina on their way to Mexico, we can encourage growth in their waning populations.
Beyond milkweed, we plant other pollinator-friendly wildflowers to help play our part in preventing the widespread demise of a variety of important species—including hummingbirds, bees, moths, and more.
We cultivate more than 30 varieties of wildflowers across 2.5 acres in order to attract and support these small, but vital native animals. This program encourages a more diverse, and thus resilient, ecosystem both on the estate and in the surrounding region.
Harnessing Solar Energy
Along with the sustainability initiatives noted above, Biltmore has implemented a 9-acre, 1.7-megawatt solar system with 7,000 solar panels and uses advanced technology to perform, even on cloudy days.
These panels provide up to 20% of the estate’s energy needs. Sheep and chickens occasionally graze in the solar fields, keeping the land agricultural.
Practicing Sustainability through Corporate Social Responsibility
In addition to these sustainability practices, Biltmore encourages employees to become members of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Team that focuses on reducing, reusing, and recycling for the estate.
From the efforts mentioned here to so many more, we invite you to learn more about our ever-growing program of sustainable estate practices as we work to be great stewards of the land—just as George Vanderbilt intended.