By partnering with family farms and the food and beverage industries, the anaerobic digestion facilities at Goodrich Family Farm repurpose unavoidable food waste into value for people and the planet. Building these farm-powered facilities on farms leverages the amazing synergies that exist between food waste recycling and regenerative agriculture practices.
How food is manufactured and how it is disposed of significantly impacts the health of Vermonters and the environment. In the United States more than 30 percent of all food that is produced is discarded and ends up in an incinerator or landfill. The good news is that some states, including Vermont, now mandate that organic waste be recycled rather than thrown away. Because the breakdown of food waste produces methane, one of the most dangerous greenhouse gases estimated to be more than 40 times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide, these organic waste bans are critical to climate change mitigation.
Closing the loop: Reducing food waste and recycling it into renewable energy
The remarkable thing about food waste is that it can become either a dangerous greenhouse gas or an incredible ingredient to produce renewable energy and low-carbon fertilizer. The deciding factor is based entirely on how we dispose of it. Great strides are being made to reduce waste from the existing manufacturing and supply chain; most food manufacturers are fully engaged in multifaceted efforts to reduce food waste, but some amount of that waste is unavoidable in any manufacturing and distribution process.
The new closed loop model for food waste and farm waste to renewable energy that Vanguard Renewables, the Goodrich Family Farm, Middlebury College, and Vermont Gas Systems has created is a truly Vermont-centric collaboration that involves food, environmental protection, social responsibility, farming, and education. By partnering with family farms and the food and beverage industries, the anaerobic digestion facilities repurpose unavoidable food waste into value for people and the planet. Building these farm-powered facilities on farms leverages the amazing synergies that exist between food waste recycling and regenerative agriculture practices.
Farm-powered food waste recycling helps sustain a Vermont farm.
Vanguard Renewables collaborates with the Vermont food and farm communities to help preserve the working landscape and our environment for future generations. The newest and most advanced anaerobic digester in the Northeast is located at Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury; it will collect and recycle commercial-scale food, beverage, and other organic waste into clean, renewable energy.
As the host of a farm-powered anaerobic digester, Goodrich Family Farm receives a hosting payment and a manure-management strategy. The reduction in local odor is a benefit for the farm and for its neighbors in the Salisbury community.
The farm also receives two byproducts of the process: a low-carbon liquid fertilizer for use on its fields and a dry byproduct of the process to use as bedding for the animals. Herd manager Danielle Goodrich is delighted because the bedding is not only more comfortable for the cows, but is also a more natural material that reduces somatic cell count from udder infections, something that can increase the herd’s milk value compared with milk from herds that have a higher average somatic cell count. Furthermore, the system provides electricity and heat at no cost to the farm.
Anaerobic digestion is a beneficial food and beverage waste recycling option for Vermont.
Currently in Vermont, many municipal and community wastewater treatment facilities are at or near capacity due to the volume of organic materials flowing from commercial enterprises, institutions, and households. Diverting commercial beverage and food waste to an anaerobic digester relieves pressure on these wastewater systems and reduces the volume of harmful materials that end up in Lake Champlain. In addition, it is a carbonnegative solution.
Recycling food and beverage waste at the farm-powered anaerobic digester in Salisbury supports regenerative agriculture practices.
The Goodrich Family Farm anaerobic digester is a critical component in the regenerative agriculture and holistic land management approach employed by the farm, which enhances the viability of the virtuous farm-to-plate-backto-farm cycle. Healthy soil increases crop yields, producing more food for humans and animals.
The old practice of accepting waste materials from commercial beverage and food producers in on-farm lagoons, combining it with livestock manure, and later land applying it to fields and crops has contributed to an overabundance of phosphorus and other nutrients in the soil and local watersheds. The farm-powered project in Salisbury includes the first phosphorus-removal system in Vermont that extracts the phosphorous from the low-carbon liquid fertilizer byproduct of the anaerobic digestion process prior to any land application. This dramatically reduces the amount of phosphorus in the Otter Creek watershed, Lake Champlain, and in regional soils.
Vanguard’s process of converting food waste and manure into renewable natural gas and low-carbon fertilizer.
Salisbury includes the first phosphorus-removal system in Vermont that extracts the phosphorous from the low-carbon liquid fertilizer byproduct of the anaerobic digestion process prior to any land application. This dramatically reduces the amount of phosphorus in the Otter Creek watershed, Lake Champlain, and in regional soils.
As part of the farm’s nutrient management plan, the project includes manure-diversion channels. Manure from the 900-plus milking cows is directed into the anaerobic digester, where it is combined with commercial food and beverage waste; naturally occurring methanogens consume the material and generate methane, which is captured in the sealed digester tank.
The sequestered methane, a super potent greenhouse gas, is converted into clean, renewable natural gas (RNG), which reduces carbon impacts and helps mitigate climate change.
What’s also exciting is that much of the renewable natural gas produced at the farm-powered anaerobic digester in Salisbury will be used by Middlebury College to meet the College’s Energy 2028 goals for a reduction in the use of carbon-based fuels. RNG will be available to Vermont consumers and businesses to help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.