Keeping food out of the trash has become a priority in Massachusetts. And for some local farmers, all that discarded food has also become a valuable commodity. At locations around the state, farmers are transforming food waste into renewable energy using a process that captures methane gas and converts it into electricity.
One example is on display at Jordan Dairy Farm in Rutland. Owner Randy Jordan says an anaerobic digester fueled by food waste and manure from his cows generates enough electricity to save tens of thousands of dollars each year. “We’re making power. We’re making money. We’re still in business,” he said.
So how does it work? The process begins at places like the Whole Foods in Sudbury, where workers collect food that’s being discarded — everything from cucumber peelings and oatmeal cookies to chunks of honeydew melon — and divert it from the trash.
Instead, they grind it up and ship it out to places like the dairy farm, where it becomes fuel for digesters, big containers that function like organic power plants. Inside, food is mixed with the other key ingredient: cow poop. At the farm in Rutland, workers scrape and scoop about 3 million gallons of manure a year. It’s mixed with the food in a blender of sorts, making a giant manure smoothie.
Microorganisms in the manure munch on the food, and the methane gas that results is captured and piped into a generator to produce electricity. To run its digester, Jordan Dairy Farm partnered with Vanguard Renewables, which develops and operates waste-to-energy projects using dairy manure. At one of the company’s other sites in Spencer, a digester powers about 2,000 homes plus the farm.