The Farm that Turns Food Waste Into Energy
One Pennsylvania dairy is not only producing milk, but it’s also taking uneaten and expired food from local grocery stores and distribution centers and turning it into electricity.
Food waste is a growing problem in the United States, where more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other material, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Just over a decade ago, Brett Reinford, of Reinford Farms in Mifflintown, Penn., didn’t anticipate his family could be part of the solution.
That’s when a grocery store representative called to ask if the farm’s digester, designed to generate power from the manure of 725 cows, could handle spoiled produce. If so, the grocer said, he was willing to pay the Reinfords to accept food waste on a regular basis.
Reinford figured, “Why not?” He called several universities and asked if it was possible to put food waste in a digester. Indeed, he could — with astounding results. Today, the digester generates enough electricity to power the dairy and about 100 homes, thanks in part to the addition of food waste.
Word spread fast in his community, and other companies began contacting Reinford to see if he would take their food waste instead of sending it to landfills.
What at first provided a blessing soon became a headache — much of the food came in packaging that was difficult to remove. But not for lack of trying.
“We did it by hand, and after opening a couple thousand bags of lettuce per truckload that we received, it got old very, very quickly.”
Determined to solve the problem and grow his farm’s capacity to create energy, he sought a solution. Last summer the dairy purchased a food waste depackager and even built a building on the farm that’s dedicated to handling what could have just been garbage.
Now any food waste can be loaded into the depackager, where it is pushed through a long pipe. A system of paddles separates the packaging from the food, which falls to the bottom and is piped to the digester. Leftover packaging, such as cans and plastic wrapping, is pushed into a truck for recycling.
The farm now recycles 6,000 to 12,000 gallons of food waste daily and has kept more than 35,000 tons of waste out of landfills in the past 10 years.
“We’re not just milking cows now, and that’s what’s pretty cool,” Reinford says, adding that he’s glad he pushed to find a solution for his community. “We wouldn’t have imagined 10 years ago we’d be doing something like this.”
Reinford Farms is among three dairies that won the 2018 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards.