Monday, April 2, 2012

Meatless Monday: What Goes in Must Come Out

… And that is the big problem with the dairy boom. The dairy business is having a growth spurt in the Northeast, particularly across the border in New York state which has become the mecca for Greek yogurt makers. Since Greek yogurt is manufactured by straining out the whey and water, it requires three times the amount of milk to make the finished project, which means three times the cows. Three times the cows also equates to three times the waste.

Let’s start with just one cow. The EPA tells us that a single dairy cow produces approximately 120 pounds of wet manure per day, and that the waste produced per day by one dairy cow is equal to that of 20-40 people. That’s the scoop on the solid waste. Cows also manufacture a lot of gas. According to MIT, one cow passes 480 liters of methane gas a day. To put this into context, a large bottle of soda is 2 liters.  

So far we have been talking one cow. California is the nation’s number one dairy state with 1.4 million cows. Ready for some math? 1.4 million x 120 pounds = 168 million pounds of solid waste a day. Each day the same cows also produce 672 million liters of methane, a greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. And that’s just in California!

Back in 1999, the EPA and the state of California, in recognition of this problem, worked together to forge the Dairy Quality Assurance Partnership, a collaborative effort to address the issues the California dairies face.

In 1997, on the other side of the country, Matt and Ben Freund, two forward thinking brothers managing a family farm in northwestern Connecticut, decided to tackle the problem of their dairy waste. Their dad Eugene had been one of the first in the state to store manure to be later used as fertilizer. The brothers decided to invest in a methane digesterand their farm became one of the first in the country to separate their cows’ raw manure into methane gas which is collected and burned as fuel, liquid which is used to fertilize the fields, and solid matter which continues to compost. 

Not content merely to see the solid cow manure as compost, the innovative brothers began exploring ways to turn the solid waste into a biodegradable plant starting pot. They acquired some grants from the USDA and began a series of home kitchen toaster oven experiments (according to the their website). 

The end result was the CowPot, a durable container for starting seedlings which can withstand months of growing in the greenhouse, but will totally dissolve within four weeks of being planted in the ground, while continuing to feed the plant. 

I heard about these at Master Gardening class. Unlike peat pots, CowPots can be placed directly into the ground, leaving the plant roots undisturbed and eliminating “transplant shock.” Since they disintegrate totally, they do not wick moisture. Read the testimonials here

This product is great for both the farmer and the grower. Kudos to these ingenious brothers!

And now to why I am talking about this on Meatless Monday. Two things:

  • CowPots are perfect for starting your vegetable seedlings, your future food. And the time to think about that is now! 
  • The dairy industry has a big footprint. Be aware when making your food choices, and above all, don’t waste your food! Some yogurt producers manage their waste stream better than others. But that will have to be a future post…
Happy Monday! Have a great week and come back to visit soon.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”


  1. All those pastures and all those uncollected pies brings to mind another quirky adaptation to life on earth involving the "circle of repugnance". If you can work this story into Meatless Monday, I would think you could work that story in as well. ;*)

    1. I will work on this for a future post.