Sustainability through solar and compost
“Milking started at 4:00 this morning,” says Jake Catlin of Smith’s Country Cheese. “By 8:30 we had pumped the milk into the cheese-making room. It’s about as fresh as you can get.” About half of the milk from the Winchendon farm’s 200 Holsteins gets made into Gouda, Havarti and cheddar cheeses, which are sold at their country store and in supermarkets, and to small wholesalers around the state.
Integral to the farm’s operation are 110 photovoltaic solar panels, which reduce the farm’s electricity costs by about 35 percent. The farm also has 50 solar thermal panels that help heat water to 220 degrees and maintain that temperature “For cheesemaking, you need hot water and you need it right away,” says Jake. The panels have reduced the farm’s oil bill by about $2,000 a year. Jake has also swapped out all the energy-inefficient light bulbs in the barn and milk house to energy-efficient LEDs. “We’ve seen a savings on that and an improvement in visibility,” he says.
To improve the farm’s energy efficiency, Jake looked to the Center for EcoTechnology and the MA Department of Agricultural Resources for financial support. Among other grants, he received funding from MDAR’s Agricultural Energy Grant Program. “The biggest challenge is the initial cost,” says Jake “We took on debt to purchase the farm last year, and to make improvements required more capital. You can see on paper how the improvements will be worth it in the long run, but you have to convince a lender to provide the upfront cost.”
Next on the list of energy improvements is a heat-exchange system for the farm’s composting operation. Currently, the farm composts its cow manure by mixing it with natural products, screening it, and adding aeration. The farm sells compost in bags for home gardeners and in bulk for commercial operations. A heat-exchange system would capture the hot air from the compost piles—which can reach 180 degrees—and speed the composting process, saving labor and reducing equipment costs.
These improvements both help the environment by consuming fewer non-renewable resources and reduce overhead costs, enabling the farm to be more economically sustainable.