Collaboration, innovation and sustainability collide

Written by Molly Schmitt
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Chris explains that as the food scraps collection grew, they noticed more food waste from customers who didn’t want to send it to the landfill. Items like packaged lettuce and yogurt cups that expired or didn’t meet retail specifications were then also collected and fed to the digester to create even more biogas.

“The really cool part is that we’re actually able to share customers between the creamery and the digester, so you can sell them milk, but also use products that aren’t sold or don’t reach the final consumer. They become customers on two different levels — ultimately helping create milk again to be sold to them,” Chris says. “We like how that is truly the definition of sustainability — we, and the customers, are closing the loop through that whole process.”

Dairy farmers are some of the original environmentalists, says Chris. He and the rest of the creamery partners understand that consumers are paying more attention to how their food is being produced and the impact agriculture has on the environment. They also know farmers need to continue thinking about the next steps and ways to reduce their environmental footprint.

While Brian and Chris are both proud of the achievements so far, they are always looking at more ways they can improve efficiency and sustainability.

“Being a small and nimble operation, we have authentically evolved into a work family in which we have a more caring and thoughtful approach to how we do things,” Brian says.

With the success of Craigs Station Creamery, the eight farms are working with DFA and Arla Foods to launch a cheddar cheese plant. This next project is well underway and is set to have product out the door by the end of 2017. The new cheese plant will have the same story as the creamery — that of a clean, natural product created by the active farm group. The cheese plant will also focus on sustainability by using the digester and implementing some new recycling practices and technology.

These two major projects — the creamery and cheese plant — didn’t come together overnight. Chris, and the rest of the farmers involved, spent years thinking about how they could best align with the consumer.

“I would like to encourage other DFA members to try having a stronger tie to their local community or with the consumer, and think about ways to do that with the Co-op and other farmers,” Chris says. “I think there are lots of opportunities to connect with consumers, and I think there’s a place for a lot of us, as members, to voice that.”