“I’ve always wanted to be a farmer, it’s in my DNA,” says 6th generation dairy farmer John Noble of Noblehurst Farms located in upstate New York. “And one of our responsibilities is to make sure that the business is vibrant and vital so another generation will want to be invested in it.”
For Noble, continuous sustainability improvements are the keys to keeping his farm, and related businesses, vibrant and vital. Noblehurst Farms is currently an active member of the Linwood, NY community, and has every intention of staying that way.
Part of the farm’s sustainability efforts involve gathering food waste from the surrounding community—as well as the farm itself—and giving it back in the form of energy.
A Digester for All
To recycle waste, Noble employs the use of a digester. Better known as a methane or manure digester, these machines convert organic matter—such as manure and food waste—into methane, and transforms that methane into reusable energy. In layman’s terms, turning poop, into power! Any power that is not used for the farm, or any other businesses, is sold to the local power grid.
“We also built the digester to be able to handle food waste,” explains Noble. Currently, the digester receives about 70% animal waste and 30% food waste. Noble’s son, Christopher Noble, founded the business Natural Upcycling, which picks up food waste from local grocery stores, restaurants and universities, and brings it back to the digester to be turned into energy and fertilizer.
After Noble installed his digester, the dairy—in a partnership with seven other dairy farms and Dairy Farmers of America—opened a second business, Craigs Station Creamery. With the help of the digester, the creamery is powered by its own waste, creating a closed loop system.
“We are able to set ourselves apart by attaching a traceability and sustainability story to our product,” explains Noble. It is with that sustainability story that Noblehurst Farms, Craigs Station Creamery and a soon to be completed cheddar cheese plant have set themselves apart from other operations.
In addition to powering the farm and the creamery, the digester will power the cheese plant. Noble is also taking a novel approach to water reuse with the cheese plant. “We’re going to clean the water used by the cheese plant, and feed it back to the cows, which will lower the amount of fresh water we have to consume,” explains Noble.
Don’t Forget the Girls
No matter what, none of the sustainability practices on Noblehurst Farms would be in place without the cows. Through extensive employee training, and an upcoming barn renovation, Noble, and his family, keep cow care and comfort at the top of their minds. “We’re doing additional training with our employees that goes beyond the industry standards,” says Noble. In addition, Noblehurst Farms plans to renovate their barn to include new cooling systems, deep bedded stalls and a shorter walk to the milking parlor. “We want to keep the cows’ time away from food and water as short as possible,” explains Noble.
Furthermore, Noblehurst Farms brings in a livestock nutritionist to visit the cows every week to ensure the animals are receiving a healthy and balanced diet. Milk producing cows have a high metabolism, similar to a marathon runner, and by making sure every cow is properly fed and nourished, Noblehurst Farms guarantees the health of each and every cow. Noble tests and samples feed as much as possible to have a healthy and individualized dietary regimen for the cows. And their dietary needs are all locally met as Noblehurst farms grows all the forage they need for the cows. The farm has about 3,000 acres of hay, corn and wheat. So, any manure that doesn’t go into the digester gets put back into the ground with dragline technology, which is an efficient and environmentally friendly method of reusing animal manure as natural fertilizer.
“We’ve kept this business going,” says Noble, “and we’re going to keep it going for another 150 years.” That wouldn’t be possible without state of the art technology and sustainability practices.