East Canaan, Connecticut
This week we’re pleased to share the news that Freund’s Farm, one of the 1,200 farm family owners of Cabot, has been awarded the 2015 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award for Outstanding Resource Stewardship.
Freund’s Farm has been awarded the 2015 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award for Outstanding Resource Stewardship! http://ow.ly/MErXf @cabotcheese
The Freunds have been focused on sustainability from the beginning – since before ‘sustainability’ was the name for treating environment and community the right way. When Eugene Freund moved from New York City to East Canaan, CT, to start the farm with his wife Esther in 1949, he held a strong belief in environmental stewardship. He made that belief a core part of the way the Freund’s Farm is operated, and while Eugene has passed on, the principles he instilled in his family have led the farm to initiatives that he couldn’t have dreamed of when he started the farm.
Managing cow manure is a very important – and challenging – part of what dairy farmers do. But the Freunds have found a way to make the manure an asset and a money maker. Using their methane digester, some impressive ingenuity, and a lot of time to experiment, the Freunds were able to create CowPots – an environmentally friendly flowerpot. CowPots are made from the nutrient-rich manure left over from the process of creating biogas from their methane digester.
This renewable energy source is used to heat hot water for the family’s home and barns. The Freunds squeeze the manure to separate solids from liquids, using the liquids to fertilize their crop fields and the solids for producing CowPots. This value added product grows bigger, healthier plants and reduces the need to use plastic planters. It also generates another revenue stream to help keep the farm viable and reduces the nutrient load on the farm. The Freund’s invention has been featured on CNN, the Today Show and Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs. CowPots are available online and at retailers throughout the country.
Freund’s Farm is now run by the second generation, Matt and Ben, along with Matt’s wife Theresa and three of their children, Amanda, Rachel, and Isaac. They have another daughter, Emily, who pitches in a hand when she is home from her job with a local Connecticut vineyard (Jones Family Vineyard).
In addition to the great work they do with their waste, the family has installed enough solar panels to generate the electricity they need to power the dairy farm. They also take advantage of many other sustainable farm practices including crop work through cover cropping, zone till cropping and rotational cropping. All three practices work toward reducing erosion and building soil health. The Freund’s Farm motto is “keep clean water clean and dirty water contained.” All rainwater is collected off of barn roofs with gutters, animals are fenced out of streams when on pasture, wash water is recycled, native species have been planted along river’s edge to improve the riparian buffers on the two rivers that pass through their farm. Energy efficiencies on the farm include variable speed fans, a milking parlor that is housed in a greenhouse where they can take advantage of sunlight as well as the body heat from the cows to reduce need to turn on lights or turn on the heat. The list goes on and on; you can learn more on the CowPots site.
Perhaps the most important part of all the initiatives the Freunds take on is their willingness to share their knowledge and passion for the environment. Matt serves as Chair of the Agri-Mark Sustainable Farms Committee and Amanda, Rachel, and Isaac are active in both the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association’s Young Farmers Committee and the Cabot Young Cooperator program – a program that identifies the next generation of leaders in the Cooperative and allows them to share thoughts and ideas.
This week, Amanda took the time – from Washington, DC – to answer a few questions about what this award means to her family:
What are the roots of stewardship and sustainability on your family farm?
We have always been early adopters of new technology on our farm. My late grandmother, Esther Brown Freund, was fascinated by the idea of a methane digester in the 70s. They actually built a prototype digester in the 70s using a metal barrel and were burning cow farts (as my dad likes to call it), just to see if they could. It was Esther’s two sons, Matt (my dad) and Ben who eventually built a 67,000 gallon methane digester in 1997, allowing our farm to capture the methane and use it as a biogas (in place of propane) to heat our hot water for the farmhouse and the barns. Since then the technology of capturing methane has changed and improved substantially, but we may have the longest continuously run methane digester in the country, and that’s no small feat! Being early adopters of new technologies has extended beyond our digester. We installed over 500 solar panels last year to generate enough electricity to meet our farm’s needs and were the first farm in the state to be able to utilize virtual net metering. Just this past week, we broke ground on a new barn to even better meet the comfort and needs of our cows and will utilize five robotic milkers. We are the first in the state to use this new technology.
What prompted you to prioritize sustainability?
In dairy farming, it’s almost a matter of survival. If the farming practices we use today aren’t going to provide my children (hypothetical children at this point) with land that can provide them an equal or better life, then I am not doing my job. My mother used to be my Girl Scout leader and when we got together in a classroom after school each week, she said, “We will leave it cleaner than we found it.” This standard is just the same for our farm (and for a lot of farmers that we know); we strive to take care of it and leave it better than we received it.
What drives your passion for sustainability?
I’ve actually just begun drafting a revised business plan for our family farm that includes the next generation getting more involved with the farm. Last week, my uncle sent me the mission statement as it was drafted in the 1970’s when my dad and uncle were coming back to the family farm. It states:
To run a profitable dairy open to the possibility of diversification, operating in an ecologically aware environment, practicing proper animal handling, and respecting our neighbors and community.
It’s 40 years later, and I think that this same mission statement is still fitting for our family and our farm as we transition into the third generation. Sustainability is four-fold for us; it involves economics, the environment, our animals, and our people (neighbors, family and employees).
Which sustainability initiative have you been most proud of?
CowPots has most definitely received the most attention and made us unique in the dairy industry. We went beyond making lemonade out of lemons, we have redefined manure management through a very creative solution. And it doesn’t even stink!
And while it’s easy to tell the story about CowPots being a renewable, recycled product that reduces the need for plastic, the reality is that it is just one of the sustainable practices we practice on our farm. CowPots is a very specific practice to manure management, but we also have 500 solar panels that supply our farm with the energy needed to operate, recycling is a daily initiative, using energy efficient lights and appliances has become standard.
What is the next sustainability story on your farm?
Transition and bringing in the next generation. Working with family is rewarding and challenging and we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us as we figure out how we each fit into this farm, how our personalities will work together and what we can bring to the table to ensure that we stay true to our mission statement and are excellent stewards to our land.
How do you see your own sustainability initiatives helping to inspire your fellow farmers?
We love to talk. But seriously, we love to share our experiences with farmers, friends, educators, government officials and consumers to let them know what practices we’ve adopted and which practices we’ve terminated. Farming is largely a matter of measuring and mitigating risk. Every time we try something new on our farm, we’re taking a risk and if we can be a resource to other farms that are considering similar initiatives, it is our pleasure to share.
Last night at the dinner hosted by the Innovation Center’s Sustainability Award Sponsors, a gentleman quoted Theodore Roosevelt: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
For me, that work is being a dairy farmer on my family’s farm.