The little engine that could: Barstow’s Longview Farm

CN-MR-3-LittleEngine041by Laura Rodley

Cows have always been considered unusual due to their unique style of digestion: their stomach has four chambers. Now Barstow’s Longview Farm in Hadley, MA will be known for having a unique stomach of its own — a BGreen Energy’s Anaerobic Digester that converts manure and food scraps into fertilizer and enough electricity to power the entire farm, plus surrounding houses. The key word is sustainable.

Septimus Barstow started the farm in 1806. It is now managed by 6th generation David Barstow and his brother Steven, with 7th generation Steven Barstow II poised to take over. They raise 450 Holsteins, farm 400 acres and employ six people. Fifteen more people work at Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery.

Four hundred and fifty people were invited to witness newly instated Secretary of Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Maeve Vallely Bartlett cut the ribbon, celebrating this “zero waste” system that cost “just north of 3 million dollars,” including $108,000 worth of new wiring to channel power in and out of the farm.

Massachusetts’ first digester project — established at Jordan Farm in Rutland — and this one were funded in part by an investor, Boston resident William Jorgensen, owner of BGreen Energy. In food services all his life, he developed the digester after observing them utilized in Europe with technologies honed over the past half century. As utility costs rise here, the “economics make sense.”

“The food industry as a whole is trying to reduce its carbon footprint. The dairy industry is a leader,” said Jorgensen. “The digester makes dairy farms sustainable. Started here in Massachusetts because we have small dairy farms, making them behave like a big farm.”

The resulting energy manure of one cow, plus the food scraps, powers one home continuously. It works on a continuous closed loop. Barstow’s sells milk to Cabot Creamery Cooperative which produces butter and cheese. Its byproducts, or feedstock, are returned to the farm and poured into underground storage tanks. Feedstock and the farm’s manure is automatically fed from two separate tanks to the digester at a rate of 300 gallons an hour.

Pipes lining the 600,000 gallon tank heat the mix to 100 degrees as it churns and breaks down, stripping it of biogas that rises to the tank’s top, flowing along a black insulated cover out a gas pipe into tall green tanks that scrub out particles of hydrogen sulfide. This system meets Massachusetts Department of Environmental Standards — only clean biogas is piped underground to the engine room to cool to remove its moisture. Rich in methane, it then fuels a 300 kilowatt engine, producing electricity to fuel Barstow’s and 250 homes.

The farm is paid for producing extra electricity by Western Massachusetts Electric Company. Since digester start-up Dec. 31, 2013, savings have been $1,000 a month in winter and $2,000 a month per summer, running the fans to cool the cows.

“It’s better than we expected. Looking to get a bigger engine, a 5000 kilowatt engine” said Barstow II. Their 300 kilowatt engine is the engine used to start the Jordan Farm’s digester. Starting a tradition, “We’ll find another place to start-up and move that.”

The resulting slurry is chemical-free fertilizer stored in two tanks — one built in 2012 — holding two million gallons total that is emptied into trucks and spread it on corn fields and hay fields every time they cut hay, four times a year. It is less odiferous than manure typically spread on fields twice a year. “We used to get three to four phone calls every time we spread manure. This year we haven’t gotten any,” said Denise Barstow, born on the farm, just graduated from the University of New Hampshire.

Overall, “It is working well, very pleased with that. Took six years, had to change a lot of regulations to get food companies used to the idea that this could be accomplished,” said Jorgensen on obtaining grants from Massachusetts Council of Energy Conservation, USDA, Federal Stimulus Fund and Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, among others.

Everyone is grateful to the Patrick Administration for being instrumental in coordinating policies to make renewable energy from managed discarded materials.

Barstow’s, B-Green Energy, A-Green Energy LLC, AGreen Solutions and Casella Organics work together. Casella oversees collection of organics, operating the digester facility via an iPhone TM control system, accessible by remote control.

Starting Oct. 1, 2014, Massachusetts has banned food organics from entering the waste stream. “They can’t put food waste in landfills anymore. Costs a lot more to bring to a municipal waste facility where they deal with human waste, save a lot of money bringing it here. It looks good bringing it to a green facility,” said Barstow II.

Wind River Environmental pays to deliver 9,000 gallons of used restaurant cooking grease twice weekly. “They just pulled into our driveway and said, ‘Who do we talk to to get rid of our waste,’” said Barstow II, accepting HP Hood, Agri-Mark, Cains and Northampton’s Coca-Cola.

“They have to get rid of it. Looking for more digesters. (There’s) a lot more food than we can take,” said Barstow II.

Meanwhile, family members enjoy the farm as their home. Marjorie Barstow, 92, once managed the farm with her husband Nelson. She appears twenty years younger. It’s the raw milk, she said.

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