Hadley farm pioneering environmental health efforts

Nov. 16, 2021 |  Trent Levakis | The Reminder

HADLEY – Barstow’s Longview Farm has been a part of a team leading the charge in decarbonization efforts. Through a new project in collaboration with Vanguard Renewables and Cabot Creamery they are utilizing environmental resources to eliminate food waste and improve food sustainability as a whole.

The process of incorporating new technology like the anaerobic digester and making efforts in food sustainability started when both Stonyfield Organic and Cabot, heavy hitters of the dairy industry, joined forces alongside the Farm Powered Strategic Alliance (FPSA) and Dairy Farmers of America to place dairy as a leader in forging a circular pathway to decarbonization and climate change mitigation. Longview Farm owns and operates an anaerobic digester and has worked with the companies in creating this new environmentally friendly cycle.

“Our brand is farm power. We had a lot of large companies, multi state companies, that were really looking for solutions for waste from processing that they can’t eliminate and looking for other solutions – including solutions to decarbonize their thermal load,” said Jennifer Forbes, vice president of marketing and strategic initiatives at Vanguard Renewables.

In partnership with the FPSA and particularly Cabot Creamery, Barstow’s Longview Farm in Hadley has played a key role in working toward more sustainable management of food waste and creating environmentally-friendly energy. Cabot sends inedible organic waste from its manufacturing facility in West Springfield to Longview Farm in Hadley where the farm takes the waste and puts it in the anaerobic digester where renewable energy is produced. Then through contract, Cabot purchases energy from the Farm and uses it to run their facility.

“These two sustainably minded dairy companies are stepping up to a leadership role in climate change mitigation at a time when the eyes of the world are on the [United Nations] Climate Change Summit,” said John Hanselman, founder and chief strategy officer of Vanguard Renewables. “Cabot epitomizes the virtuous cycle, closing the waste to energy loop by recycling its unavoidable manufacturing waste at an on-farm digester and decarbonizing their thermal energy usage by purchasing farm-derived renewable energy.”

“This is a perfect example of a collaboration between a number of parties, but ultimately we’re pleased within our area cooperative to have a solution to some of the opportunities to repurpose what would otherwise be waste from our manufacturing facilities,” said Jed David, director of sustainability at Cabot Creamery. “That facility in Western Mass. is where we make all our butter. For our retail butter, consumer facing, we have that back panel on the butter carton and we use that panel to communicate the facts to our consumers that the cows in our co-op provide both the cream and electricity to make Cabot butter.”

Davis said that typically for most digesters, you need larger farms of almost double the amount of cows that Longview has, but thanks to work done by Vanguard, the idea of making a recipe of cow manure and other organics that can create more output than just manure alone has changed the way people are approaching food sustainability and has given a smaller farm like Longview’s the chance to do what’s environmentally right.

“It’s a big investment in a digester but Vanguard has shown this can be extremely effective solution. At the end of the day it’s all about how do we eliminate food waste, how do we create renewable energy, how do we create benefits for farms and communities?” said Davis.

The alliance was founded in 2020 by Vanguard Renewables, Unilever, Starbucks, and Dairy Farmers of American in hopes to accelerate long-term commitments to avoid or eliminate food waste first and repurpose what can’t be eliminated into renewable energy via farm-based anaerobic digesters. The alliance is referred to as non-competitive alliance with hopes that while also being a leader in food sustainability, they can also provide a space for farmers and companies to freely discuss everything on the table when dealing with this issue. Almost two years since its founding, the FPSA has been named one of Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas.

“John Hanselman … came up with the idea of bring these people together in a group in a non-competitive alliance to talk about the challenges that they’re having in getting to net zero and meeting their other goals, and really to just share the best practices and ideas about how collectively or individually they can do that and learn from each other,” Forbes said.

The alliance offers U.S. food and drink manufacturers and retailers a circular approach to reducing the environmental impacts of carbon dioxide emissions and offers a pathway toward a carbon-neutral footprint. Members have the opportunity to recycle unavoidable food and beverage waste on farms where it is combined with farm manure in a farm powered anaerobic digester. This generates renewable natural gas (RNG) and also produces a low carbon fertilizer that host farms use to support regenerative agriculture practices and provides the farmer with a diversified income stream.

Cabot Creamery, a certified B Corporation and dairy cooperative best known for its classic sharp cheddar cheese and butter, has worked with Vanguard renewables from the beginning and has a longstanding commitment to sustainability.

Founded in 1806, Barstow’s Longview Farm has been a staple of the community as it now is presently run by sixth generation brothers, Steven and David, and seventh generation Steven Barstow II. Making it as far as they have as a family farm means they have dealt with the rollercoaster ride of maintaining business in what has become at times an unstable milk market due to tanking prices and other dairy farms in New England buckled. It is by the continuation of diversification in an unstable milk market that has kept them going, according to information on the farm’s website, barstowslongviewfarm.com.

“In the early 2000s, the milk market was crashing,” said Denise Barstow Manz, marketing and education manager of Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery. “Our sixth ad seventh generation family farm needed to diversify or stop farming. We connected with a few other dairy farmers in Massachusetts interested in anaerobic digesters. With a louder voice, we attracted investors and partners like Vanguard Renewable Energy.”

Having the anaerobic digester on the farm has gained Longview another revenue stream. It has also helped dramatically reduce reliance on fossil fuels, chemical fertilizer, and the carbon footprint all while diverting local food waste from landfills and providing green energy to the community.

“It also speaks to what we believe as a family: sustainability is an essential part of our story and our future as a dairy farm,” Barstow Manz said. “All businesses need to work to reduce emissions and strengthen our food system. We are honored to work with Vanguard Renewable Energy to move our farm forward.

The installation of an anaerobic digester and the partnership with the FPSA has given Longview the status of leader in efforts of environmentally conscious farming and uplifting food sustainability. Cabot sources milk from Longview Farm for its West Springfield butter facility which sends process waste to the on farm anaerobic digester at Longview. Renewable energy generated by food waste and cow manure combined in the anaerobic digester also helps power the butter facility, thus showing the circular pathway of decarbonization and the goal of the alliance.

“We are one of the largest recyclers of organics in the Northeast and we certainly feel like these kinds of precompetitive collaborations are a great way for people to learn and to figure out how to do this better,” Forbes said. “We’re working on another version of this for smaller companies that aren’t multi-state because they also want to do the right thing by the environment and recycle their waste from manufacturing.”

The work being done by the alliance and local Longview Farm is leading the way in food sustainability amid the climate crisis. In the United States, 40 percent of all food produced is discarded and finding ways to reduce that waste has become a priority to change the ways of how we manage food waste in America. Organic waste recycling is a solution that addresses compliance with organic waste bans and the Biden Administration’s climate change plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

Read the article on the Reminder.

Signup for Barstow's monthly newsletter