Specific ‘sustainability labels’ that we put on farming practices may be new to many of us, but the basic concept behind sustainability according to Cabot’s credo “living within our means and ensuring the means to live” is an age old theme in dairy farming. Continuous improvement is the history of dairy farming in the U.S. Farming as an economically viable business has stood upon the pillars of preserving the health of our people and planet. With the primary goal to provide nutritious, wholesome source of food for an increasing population, the industry has endured many bumps along the road. These challenges have encouraged impactful innovations.
Over the last 70 years, milk production in the U.S. has quadrupled, while the environmental impacts have decreased. Producing a gallon of milk requires 90 percent less cropland, consumes 65 percent less water and emits 63 percent fewer greenhouse gases. The dairy industry plays a critical role in these wins. Our Cabot farm families are doing their part every day in many ways and receiving national recognition at the same time. In 2012, the Innovation Center for US Dairy awarded the Audet Family from Blue Spruce Farm of Bridport, VT the first-ever National Award for Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability.#Sustainability is a crucial part of passing the farm to the next gen, and the Audets are always working on just that. Click To Tweet
The Audet family does everything they can to make their farm more sustainable. They run Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport, Vermont, just around the corner from the Cabot Cheese Plant in Middlebury. The farm was purchased by Norman and Mary-Rose Audet in 1958. Today, the third generation of the Audet family is being raised on the farm and some are entering the workforce of the family farm along-side their parents and grandfather. All told, there are more than 20 family members involved on the farm – and they all know that sustainability is a crucial part of being able to hand the farm down to the next generation.
The Audet family has been making changes since the early 1990’s to allow for Blue Spruce Farm to maximize their efficiency. They designed a way to re-use their water, to reduce water consumption but yet improve the water consumed by the animals on their farm. Then in 2002, the family started to research anaerobic digesters. Working closely with a Vermont electric company, Central Vermont Public Service Corporation, the Blue Spruce Farm was able to add an aerobic digester in 2005 to their family farm. This produces the enough renewable electricity to 400+ residential homes in Vermont. This process is called “Cow Power”, the Audet family works with Green Mountain Power to provide a reliable source of electricity-because not many things are more reliable than cows producing manure. But that’s not the only part, the digester allows for the manure to go through a mechanical separator, which produces both comfortable bedding for the cows and fertilizer for their 3,000 acres of crops. But the Audet family didn’t stop here, in 2013 they added a wind turbine. Spruce Farm remains committed to adopting new technology and practices to reduce their carbon footprint, while ensuring the economic sustainability for the future of the family farm for many more generations to come.
What are the roots of stewardship and sustainability on your family farm?
We have a long tradition, starting with our parents, believing that we are part of our community, and the community is part of us. Caring for our animals and our land is who we are; now people have fancy names for it, like ‘sustainability’!
What sustainability initiative have you been most proud of?
Our Cow Power project has connected us with our community in an unprecedented way. We grow crops to feed our cows, and we love that we continue to utilize the value by continuing to use it when it comes out of the back end of our cows, where it eventually ends back out to improve soil health – with all sorts of value added benefits along the way.
What is the next sustainability story on your farm?
We have a strong focus on water quality—it is possible to farm while maintaining and improving water quality. Cow Power has helped. But we are adopting other practices and investing in new technology that further help meet our goals.
How do you see your own sustainability initiatives helping to inspire your fellow farmers?
Most dairy farmers have a great story of continuous improvement and resilience. We are constantly finding new and better ways to produce quality milk in a way that is good for our animals, good for the environment and good for our community. We are proud of the work we do in producing nutritious, affordable food and being good neighbors, while helping to keep Vermont’s working landscape vital and productive.
Farmers are inspired by each other. Recently, we have been part of founding the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition. We are a group of Farmers in the Lake Champlain Basin who have taken on the leadership role to show that a strong Local Farm Economy and clean water can work together. Click here to learn more about this new coalition.
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