Culture of sustainability

Written by Jason Nichols

With a diverse operation that includes several businesses, the Hurst family is focused on the future

It all started with a small dairy farm, a tiny convenience store outside the farm’s entrance and a desire to be sustainable for generations.

Today, the operation that started with George Hurst and his father, Earl, is a thriving group of partnerships that includes the 500-cow, 900-acre Oregon Dairy, a 35,000-square-foot supermarket that employs 360 people, a 200-seat family restaurant, a composting operation, an energy generation system and environmental stewardship programs that have positioned Oregon Dairy as an important community partner in Lancaster County, Pa.

As Hurst surveys his sprawling Pennsylvania operation, he readily admits he never expected it to turn out this way.

“When I went into partnership with my dad in 1974, we had a small dairy and a small convenience store,” Hurst says. “We did not have any idea where this was going to end up.”

Earlier this year, Hurst ended up in Washington, D.C., to receive a sustainability award from the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy for his farm’s dedication to community outreach, renewable energy practices and a business culture that isn’t afraid to take risks and try new things in order to remain viable.

Hurst is in partnership with his son, Chad, and daughter and son-in-law, Maria and Tim Forry, on the dairy operation. Maria accompanied him to the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we are being recognized for the things we do every day,’” says Maria, who accepted the award with George in Washington, D.C. “I also think about all the other dairies that are doing the things we do and even more than we do. It’s very humbling.”

The dairy is equipped with a methane digester and recently went into partnership on a compost operation.

The digester is a prime example of the management’s foresight.

In 1985, energy costs were forecast to increase dramatically and the population of Lancaster County was on the rise.

Hurst worked with a nearby dairy to install a methane digester to decrease his dependence on purchased energy for the dairy, the restaurant and the grocery store. That wasn’t the only benefit of the digester. The anaerobic process also significantly cuts down on the odor associated with a dairy operation, which positioned the dairy as a more community-friendly operation.

“That’s part of having the digester and one of the reasons we recently expanded its capacity,” says Tim. “The digested manure has less odor. You can’t put a number on that, but that’s an important thing for us because we have so many people close by.”

The farm added a second collection tank to the digester in 2010. The digester now provides all the power for the dairy, supplements power to the grocery store, heats Tim and Maria’s home and preheats water for the dairy.

The farm’s manure management practices show the family’s dedication to using all of their resources. They’re essentially using the manure from start to finish.