Known for its expansive group of museums, one would hardly think of turning to the Smithsonian for a modern-day discussion on dairy. However, the American institution founded by James Smithson did just that in its April/May 2023 edition of its magazine the Smithsonian. That’s where journalist Rachael Moeller Gorman and photo journalist David Degner dug deep into dairy with their 10-page feature, “Waste Not: Tradition-minded farmers embrace new technology to convert manure and food scraps into electricity.”
The Northeast dairy industry served as the article’s epicenter. That’s where the Barstow family began operating an anaerobic digester for its 600-cow dairy in 2013. Unlike many digesters in the Midwest and West, the Massachusetts dairy runs on both cow manure and food waste. That addition took place when Vanguard Renewables helped expand the project during the ensuing years.
“In 2014, Massachusetts — which now has fewer than 10 active landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency — banned the dumping of food and other organic waste for institutions and businesses that produce 1 ton or more a week: grocery stores, food processors, wholesalers, and large restaurants,” wrote Gorman. “Since November 2022, the ban has applied even to institutions that produce a half a ton of organic waste.
“Before the Massachusetts ban, there was only one small digester in the state. By 2020, there were nine, five of them belonging to Vanguard Renewables,” she continued in the article.
A miniature power plant
As many throughout the dairy industry know, anaerobic digestors are essentially manure-fueled power plants running on captured methane. While methane only lingers in the atmosphere 10 to 12 years, compared to carbon dioxide that lingers for centuries, methane is much more potent at warming the earth’s atmosphere.
In addition to capturing methane energy from manure, wastewater biosolids, food waste, fats, oils, and grease can all fuel digesters, hence the Smithsonian’s focus on Waste Not. The Hoard’s Dairyman staff highly encourages readers to take time to review the well-researched article.