The New England Fellowship of Agricultural Adventurers presented the Audet family and Blue Spruce Farm with the 2014 Agricultural Adventurers Award at the Annual Meeting of Eastern States Exposition (ESE), May 15, in West Springfield, Mass.
The Audets' Blue Spruce Farm, located in Bridport, Vermont, is best known for being the pioneering "Cow Power" farm in Vermont and for supplying Cabot Creamery with their cow's milk to make Cabot cheddar cheese. The operation began when Norman and Mary-Rose Audet purchased the 35-cow, Blue Spruce Farm in 1958. Over the next seven years, they welcomed five children who quickly became the farm's early labor force. As the farm grew, a state-of-the-art free stall barn was built to accommodate the short stature of the workers, as the children were not yet teenagers. Today, the farm is run by second generation brothers, Eugene, Ernie and Earl, along with other family members and 25 employees.
The farm ships 100,000 pounds of milk every day to the nearby Cabot plant and each year, produces 3.6 million gallons of milk. The two nearby Cabot Cheese plants are owned by the Audets and 1,200 other farm families who own Cabot as members of the Agri-Mark Cooperative. The Middlebury and Cabot, Vermont-based plants employ 676 people, while providing a valuable market for Vermont milk and global distribution of international award-winning cheddar cheese. The Audet family is proud of its heritage, commitment to community, and being an integral part of the Cabot Co-Op making the World's Best Cheddar.
The Audets plant 3,000 acres to grow feed to provide a balanced, nutritious diet for their cows. They have made enormous investments in equipment, labor, seed and land to grow the grass and corn which provide the bulk of the cows' nutrition. A methane digester allows the farm to capitalize on its huge feed investments by collecting the leftovers that the cows don't utilize as part of their natural digestion, otherwise known as manure, and turn it into fertilizer and electricity.
All manure from the farm is collected and pumped into two 14-foot deep, 600,000 gallon "bio-digesters," leaving room for the naturally occurring methane gases to collect at the top. That methane gas is used to power generators that push enough electricity into the grid for about 400 homes. After 21 days, the manure is pumped out of the digester and the liquid is separated from undigested plant fibers that are used for comfortable, fluffy bedding for the cows. The process replaces a tractor-trailer load of sawdust each week, contributing to the farm's carbon reduction. In addition, the farm only uses about half the plant fibers, selling the rest to other farms for bedding and to gardeners and landscapers as a nutrient rich, weed seed-free, fertilizer. The liquid is used as fertilizer to improve soil health, reducing the need for commercial, fossil fuel-based fertilizers. Hating to throw anything away, even the oil from the generator is utilized to run a waste oil furnace that heats the farm equipment repair shop.
This entire process, affectionately called "Cow Power," allows the farm to be a better neighbor by reducing farm odor, reducing its carbon footprint, removing methane emissions from the air and generating electricity for fellow Vermonters.
Sixteen other dairy businesses in Vermont have since followed Blue Spruce's lead, giving the state more digesters per capita than any other state in the US. Their commitment to renewable energy continues with the most recent addition to the farm, a wind turbine in partnership with Green Mountain Power, their electric utility, which generates 165,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, about enough to power 25 homes. In addition, they will host a 2 megawatt solar farm on their land this fall.
The farm also harnesses the excess heat from the generator and through a heat exchanger, uses it to heat water for the farm, the daily cleaning of the milking system and for radiant floor heat in the office and milking parlor in the winter. Utilizing the excess heat saves the farm an expense while further reducing its carbon footprint by reducing the use of fossil fuels.
Marie Audet, of Blue Spruce Farm, in a recent address to the national Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, acknowledging the need for diets that are healthy AND ecologically responsible, stated that Cornell University research shows that farms produce a gallon of milk with 90% less cropland, 65% less water and a 63% lower carbon footprint today than in the 1940s. And the dairy industry has set a voluntary goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by another 25% by 2020. The Audets have already reduced energy use by 50% per cow per year by implementing new technology for milking, lighting and barn construction, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 500 lbs. of carbon per cow per year.
The Blue Spruce Farm was named a winner of the prestigious award for Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability from the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy in 2012, recognizing their commitment to sustainability. In 2008, the Audets were named Farm Family of the Year by the Addison County Farm Bureau.
Sustainability is more than a passing trend to the dairy industry; it's an important part of its history. For the Audet family, it's the backbone of their multi-generation business. They manage their farm with an eye to the future and are among many farm families across the US committed to nurturing healthier people, and building healthier communities and a healthier planet.
Information on the farm is available at www.bluesprucefarmvt.com. To learn more about the Audets and Cow Power, visit http://cowpowerfilm.com/.
Since 1953, the Fellowship of Agricultural Adventurers has honored outstanding leaders in New England agriculture. A special committee, appointed by the trustees of Eastern States Exposition, selects its annual fellow on the basis of innovation, pioneering and lifetime dedication to the betterment of agriculture.
The Big E, New England's largest fair, takes place September 1228, 2014 in West Springfield, Mass.