Unless you’re vegan, chances are, you love cheese. But whether you go for Irish Red Cheddar or Humboldt Fog, there’s a price to be paid for your fave fromage that exceeds the cost of purchase. Yes, we’re talking about the carbon footprint of the average dairy cow.
While childhood picture-books may have painted Old Farmer Joe down on the farm with a couple of (low-impact) cows, modern dairy operations are virtual milk-manufacturing plants, with mechanized milking equipment and large refrigeration facilities. Add to that the good-old-fashioned concern of keeping old Bessy comfortable when temperatures plummet, and what you’ve got is a whole lot of energy expended in the name of cheese.
Which is why it’s reassuring to hear about folks like the Audet family of Bridport, Vermont—widely recognized as dairy pioneers —who recently won the prestigious award for “Outstanding Dairy Farm” in the sustainability category from the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
The Audets’ Blue Spruce Farm was one of the first in the nation to install a variable speed vacuum pump control, reducing the amount of energy used during milking by nearly 60 percent. The farm also served as the pilot dairy farm for Central Vermont Public Service’s successful Cow Power program, which allows consumers to support the use of renewable energy on dairy farms.
Through the program, utility customers in Vermont can support their local dairy industry—which accounts for over $68 million per year in state and local government tax revenue, and supports local agriculture through its focus on local purchasing—generate electricity with methane, an abundant natural resource in a state with nearly a thousand dairy farms.
Cow Power gives customers who care about sustainability a way to help Vermont dairy farmers purchase generators that run on methane from cow manure (via biodigesters), as well as renewable energy in the region, and incentives that encourage farmers to get into the renewable energy business.