State officials take tour of Deerfield digester

  • Peter Melnik of the Bar Way Farm in Deerfield talks with John Lebeaux of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources on Thursday at the farm. Jan 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Peter Melnik, left, of the Bar Way Farm in Deerfield explains the 'digester' system the farm uses to produce usable products from farm and other waste. At center is Senator Stan Rosenberg and to the right is John Lebeaux, Jan 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Operations Manager Daniel Dutkiewicz, in orange, explains the 'digester' system the Bar Way Farm uses to produce usable products from farm and other waste. Jan 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The end product is used as bedding for the farms dairy herd at the Bar Way Farm in Deerfield. Jan 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Steve Melnik of the Bar Way Farm in Deerfield in the engine and generator room. A 16 cylinder methane powered engine at rear turns the generator in foreground. Jan 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/19/2018 7:55:33 PM

DEERFIELD — In front of Peter Melknik was state Sen. Stan Rosenberg and the state Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux. Behind him, stood what he said is the largest digester on a farm in the Northeast.

The now $7 million project, up $2 million from the initial cost estimate, is up and running at the Bar-Way Farm — turning manure and organic food waste into a host of products, including energy on the grid.

Thursday morning, as a part of a regional dairy farm tour, Lebeaux and his team came to visit the Melnik farm that’s now under the direction of its fourth generation.

“I always talk about, my great-grandfather started the farm, my grandfather grew the farm, my father preserved the farm and my job was to make it sustainable,” Melnik said. “I believe there will be a day when all the manure in the United States has to be digested.”

Melnik and his farm’s partner, Vanguard Renewables of Wellesley, touted the benefits of this project, which is helping to keep the family farm viable. Despite, “milk prices low, the digester is shining in a year like this,” he said.

“It shows how our farms can help mitigate greenhouse gas, manage nutrients and help keep our farms viable, sustainable and resilient as they move to the future,” Lebeaux said. “We’ve taken this traditional agricultural model and made it viable.”

While there are different ways to run a digester on food waste, Melnik said the method his family has used is, “instead of building a digester and trying to a hit a home run, we hit singles all the time.”

He explained this means that those base hits from their business plan translate into five main benefits: energy, fertilizer, bedding, heat and social capital, in that, the fertilizer they’re using likely reduced the odor by about 90 percent. The Bar-Way Farm also makes money from rent Vanguard pays them, and from being a stockholder in the business, which means when the company turns profits, the Deerfield dairy farmers get a dividend of that.

Rosenberg added, there’s a sixth benefit to their digester in regards to climate change.

Producing one megawatt, or a thousand kilowatts an hour, the digester helps to reduce carbon by 2,000 pounds of the footprint, he said, on two acres of land.

Chairman and CEO of Vanguard John Hanselman said it’s “one of the most exciting things” from this project. He “didn’t realize how impactful this is from the carbon standpoint.” He said he used to be in the solar business and it would take him several hundred acres to get that kind of reduction with solar panels.

“It’s just amazing to see the closed loop system they’ve created here,” Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg was proud of the Deerfield farm’s ability to provide an avenue for the disposal of food waste.

Traditionally, in the state, there haven’t been enough places to bring food waste, Hanselman said. With this digester in Deerfield, and the handful of others being built across the state, the Vanguard executive said there is now a place for that food waste to go. In front of Rosenberg and Lebeaux, he called for the state to enforce its organic food waste ban more stringently, because now, there’s a place where that food can go.

The digester in Deerfield uses food waste from across the state, including from Cape Cod Potato Chips, Cedar’s Hummus, Tree House Brewing Co., Home Market Foods, Whole Foods, Coca Cola Co. from Northampton and two biodiesel manufacturers, Hanselman said.

The process also uses the roughly 400 cows Melnik’s farm has to help create the base of everything.

The bedding used for the cows comes from the digester process as well, which replaces the sawdust and makes for happier cows, too, the farmer says.

Rosenberg said the partnerships between private and public capital, along with the assets of an old family dairy farm helps to create a strong product — the facility that’s now in its second year was built with the help of a $335,000 grant from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, along with $400,000 from the state’s Clean Energy Center.

“All this for a good glass of milk,” Steve Melnik, the third-generation of this line of Deerfield farmers, joked during the group photo taken for the state representatives to take back to Boston.

Earlier, Lebeaux and Secretary Matthew Beaton toured Nourse Farms in Whately.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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