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Award-winning New York and Massachusetts dairy farms model community-based futures of dairy sustainability. Pennsylvania closes 'fresh milk gap'

John Vogel, Editor, American Agriculturist

May 14, 2016

5 Min Read

Two Northeast dairy farms were recently feted at the fifth annual U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards in Chicago for two different, yet similar sound business approaches with duplication potential. One was Noblehurst Farms of Linwood, N.Y. The other was Barstow’s Longview Farm of Hadley, Mass., and its Real Farm Power partner, Agri-Mark/Cabot Creamery of Waitsfield, Vt.

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The awards, developed by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, recognizes dairy farms, businesses and partnerships whose sustainable practices positively impact the health and well-being of consumers, communities, animals and the environment. “Their achievements throughout the value chain, both large and small, significantly advance the dairy community’s leadership in sustainable business practices,” notes Barbara O’Brien, president of the Innovation Center.

Outstanding community partnership achievement
Noblehurst Farms, already renowned for milk processing innovations, formed a food waste cooperative that gathers food and other biodegradable wastes from 30 Wegmans stores, universities and schools, then delivers them to the dairy’s digester. It diverts 500 tons of food wastes a month from local landfills and powers the 1,800-cow dairy.

Self-described as an “older millennial,” Chris Noble became passionate about green energy as a Cornell University student. Ten years later, the seventh-generation farmer created a business model using partnerships.

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“We started collecting food waste from local Wegmans stores more than two years ago. While Wegmans does a phenomenal job with its food-donation program, there’s still food [and other biodegradable products] that can’t be eaten by consumers, things like melon rinds or orange peels,” Noble explains. “That’s where we come in.”

Noble solved a logistics hurdle by creating Natural Upcycling, which allows participating organizations to efficiently transport food wastes. Large rolling carts are staged at different locations throughout stores. Once full, the carts are transported to the farm’s digester.

Investment in specialized collection vehicles was key to project success, easing transport to the digester. That led the Rochester Institute of Technology and the York Central School District to implement the process as well. Wegmans participation has grown to 30 stores.

“There was a real need to drive this mission forward,” Noble adds. “Digesters are great for the environment and great for power reliability. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. But we can keep this digester and program going day and night.”

The waste-to-energy recycling is credited with reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide by 409 tons a month – equivalent to taking 1,046 cars off the road, according to the environmental studies done. And it helps Noble confidently plan for Noblehurst Farms’ future.

Outstanding processing and manufacturing
Agri-Mark Inc. and its Cabot Creamery Cooperative, Waitsfield, Vt., had a Real Farm Power deal that Barstow’s Longview Farm couldn’t turn down. “With a fluctuating dairy market, we needed a new approach to sustain our family and our farm,” says David Barstow. “A digester seemed like a promising solution.” But on its own, the 450-head farm faced funding and feedstock challenges.

With a collaborative partnership under Real Farm Power, the Barstow family was able to install a digester system. Its success lies in strategic partnerships between the farm, Cabot, Vanguard Renewables (majority-owned by Barstow’s Longview Farm) and Casella Organics, which coordinates the feedstock collection.

Three other dairy farms partnering in the Real Farm Power system were also involved in the award ceremony: Freund’s Farm Market and Bakery of East Canaan, Ct.; Blue Spruce Farm of Bridport, Vt. (a previous Farm Innovation award-winner), and Foster Brothers Farm of Middlebury, Vt.

Vanguard Renewables contracts with the Casella Organics recycling company to supply organic feedstocks from 15 food companies including Agri-Mark, Cains Foods and HP Hood and a local supermarket. The $2.8-million project is projected to be paid off in six years.

Via net metering and renewable energy credits, Cabot contracts for the excess electricity Longview generates. “Those energy credits help churn the butter,” reports Jed Davis, Cabot’s director of sustainability. “The creamery provides part of the organics to feed the farm digester, which creates energy credits used to churn the butter.” 

Real Farm Power reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 5,680 tons annually. Approximately 2,200 MWh of renewable energy is generated, offsetting Cabot’s power needs, and saving the creamery $38,000 a year.

Recaptured thermal energy from hot water reduces Barstow’s annual heating costs by more than $3,000 a year. About 30,000 tons of digested nutrients are used to fertilize Longview’s 400 acres of farmland.

Some 46 tons of food and organic wastes (digester feedstocks) a day are diverted from community landfills.

The closed-loop approach delivers benefits across value chain, from cow to consumer, says Davis. And, he adds: “It’s a blueprint for scaling anaerobic digester technology to smaller and medium-sized dairy farms.”

Closing the ‘fresh milk gap’ in Pennsylvania
The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank of Harrisburg, Pa., received an honorable mention award for developing a replicable model for supplying milk to children and adults depending on food assistance. CPFB, a licensed charitable milk subdealer, worked with dairy partners to create a fresh milk program delivering 5,000 quarts of milk a week – 62,500 gallons of milk in 2015 – to families in need.

Now, the CPFB’s model is expanding to all eight Feeding Pennsylvania food banks. This first-ever statewide charitable milk program is expected to provide more than 2 million servings.

Periodic surveys showed that fresh dairy, particularly milk, was in high demand, but not readily available through the food banks. That changed in June 2014, when CPFB was licensed by Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture as a charitable milk subdealer. That allowed purchasing milk directly from processors at discounted prices.

The status and discount made it financially possible for milk to be distributed to the food bank’s member partners in 27 counties through a refrigerated truck fleet. More than $175,000 was raised via the Fill a Glass with Hope fundraising campaign supported by Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association, Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association and Pennsylvania Dairy Promotion Program to procure milk.

About the Author(s)

John Vogel

Editor, American Agriculturist

For more than 38 years, John Vogel has been a Farm Progress editor writing for farmers from the Dakota prairies to the Eastern shores. Since 1985, he's been the editor of American Agriculturist – successor of three other Northeast magazines.

Raised on a grain and beef farm, he double-majored in Animal Science and Ag Journalism at Iowa State. His passion for helping farmers and farm management skills led to his family farm's first 209-bushel corn yield average in 1989.

John's personal and professional missions are an integral part of American Agriculturist's mission: To anticipate and explore tomorrow's farming needs and encourage positive change to keep family, profit and pride in farming.

John co-founded Pennsylvania Farm Link, a non-profit dedicated to helping young farmers start farming. It was responsible for creating three innovative state-supported low-interest loan programs and two "Farms for the Future" conferences.

His publications have received countless awards, including the 2000 Folio "Gold Award" for editorial excellence, the 2001 and 2008 National Association of Ag Journalists' Mackiewicz Award, several American Agricultural Editors' "Oscars" plus many ag media awards from the New York State Agricultural Society.

Vogel is a three-time winner of the Northeast Farm Communicators' Farm Communicator of the Year award. He's a National 4-H Foundation Distinguished Alumni and an honorary member of Alpha Zeta, and board member of Christian Farmers Outreach.

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