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Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Minor

The Energizer... Cow? Brook View Dairy

Solar, gas, coal, hydroelectric, geothermal, and manure. What do all of these have in common?

Growing up in Detroit Michigan I wasn't exposed to very many farms and most certainly never touched foot on any dairy farms to be exact. This past summer I graciously received the opportunity to intern in Land O Lakes Supply Chain sector, and although I spent a bulk of my time working on unit operation, I also had the opportunity to be exposed to many, VERY many dairy farms . When I first found out that my sustainable agriculture class would be visiting a dairy farm, Brook View Dairy, this semester I was quite excited, anxious and because of my experience this summer, thought I had an idea as to what to expect. But little did I know my expectations would be well exceeded. Brook View Farm, is a co-op farm located in Holland, Michigan, their operation consist of about 2,400 milking cows and 1,400 heifers in which they sell their milk to well-known companies such as Yoplait for their yogurt production. The have not only set themselves apart by producing strictly non-genetically modified milk but have also established their efforts and stride to maintain an environmentally aware and sustainable farm while doing so. One of the very first things you will notice as soon as you step foot on their facility is the lack of manure odor in the air, ok maybe it was just the first thing that I noticed, but it was by no coincidence.

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BrookView Farms decided to invest in not one, not even two, but actually three anaerobic digesters which cost them two and a half billion dollars to build. If you're anything like me, right about now you're most likely asking yourself “what is a digester?” and “why the heck is it so expensive?” and the answer to that is so complex yet so simple. The role of an anaerobic digester is to break down biodegradable materials without out oxygen present (an anaerobic state). This process leaves you with a biogas which can be processed and used for fuel and energy and its byproducts which can also be used for many different purposes. Similar to us humans, cows poop too and within their poop or manure is methane gas which is released into our air and happens to be one of the worst greenhouse gases known.

With the help from their anaerobic digesters, Brook View Dairy is able to capture the methane produced on their farm and allow the bacteria in their anaerobic digester to essentially, digest it! The remaining methane gas that is still present after this process is complete, is then burned and through that turned into chemical energy it intern creates energy which they are then able to use to power their farms. Not only do the produce enough energy to power their farm but they even have enough left over to power nearly 800-1000 houses, so they’re actually able to profit from that and sell it back to the grid. Brook View also encourages other companies that produce food waste to repurpose their waste in the same way by offering a service to collect that waste and process it through their digester the by product of this waste can also be used for energy and use the bio-fibers as bedding for the cows as well. So they are not only providing services and helping others in the industry become more environmentally conscious and informed but actually benefiting from it as well.

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Because of the economic benefits of their anaerobic digester Brook View will be able to position themselves for more stable growth and long term viability. By allowing other companies and farms to utilize their digesters coupled with selling excess energy back into the energy grid, they create a secondary revenue stream. And this extra revenue can be used to invest back into the farms allowing Brook View to not to have to cut any corners in it’s dairy processing and further ensuring the quality of all of their products. It also allows Brook View to be more resistant to any economic downturns, like we remember all too well, or changes in the industry.

Furthermore, Brook View can potentially become an industry leader in dairy farming with their bold decision making and investments as the industry shifts towards more sustainable and efficient energy use. Brook View shows a clear model for how the agricultural industry and the blossoming renewable energy industry can mutually benefit from one another. And as innovation grows between these two industries we are bound to see more and more creative ways for them to intertwine in creative, sustainable, and efficient ways. This close collaboration can not only bolster the specific interests of each sector, but also create brighter future for our environment and the plant as a whole!

For more information, visit Brook View Dairy.