A Vermont dairy farm has won a national award for its environmental practices, which the farmers say should aid the fight against climate change and protect water quality.
"It's been quite challenging," Chase Goodrich said of the business of dairy farming in recent years. "It's been a fight for survival, for sure."
With rising supply costs and consumers increasingly choosing plant-based drinks over cows' milk, many operations have made the tough decision to shut down.
However, the Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury, which sells milk to the Cabot Co-op Creamery for use in its famous cheddar cheese and other products, has a much more optimistic story to tell.
"Even though times are hard, we are doing good things," said Danielle Goodrich-Gingras, who manages the 900-head herd with her brother, Chase.
The Goodriches just won a big national award from the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, an industry group.
The U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award was granted in recognition of a new addition to the family's property.
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The major component of the technology takes cow manure and human food scraps, which emit the nasty greenhouse gas methane, and breaks them down in a system called a digester — turning them into renewable natural gas.
That renewable natural gas will help nearby Middlebury College reach its goal to power the campus with only renewable energy.
"To be named the most sustainable dairy farm in America was mind-blowing," said John Hanselman of Vanguard Renewables in Wellesley, Massachusetts, referring to the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award.
This year, the award also honors a farm in Ohio and one in Pennsylvania.
Vanguard developed, owns, and operates the digester on the Vermont farm, giving the Goodriches lease payments in return — helping the business diversify and stay viable.
The technology also provides the farmers low-carbon, non-synthetic fertilizer and animal bedding made from waste, the Goodriches noted.
Vanguard emphasized that an exciting innovation about the system is it actually removes phosphorus, keeping that element from flowing into Lake Champlain and feeding problems like algae blooms.
"It's a huge priority to know the next generation — my nieces and nephews — are always going to have clean places to swim and water to drink," Goodrich-Gingras said.
"Vermont is showing a model for the rest of the country, from a legislative standpoint and farm practices standpoint, that can be replicated and could really change our whole climate impact from the dairy industry," Hanselman added.
Beyond attacking climate change, the partners in the project predict more on-farm digesters across the country will strengthen critical local food systems, by providing new income that can ensure families like the Goodriches can keep doing the jobs they love.
"Being the best we can be — that's kind of what we wake up to do every day," Chase Goodrich said, describing the goal of the Goodrich Family Farm.
The recipients of the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award will be celebrated this fall at the meeting of the industry’s Dairy Sustainability Alliance, according to New England Dairy.