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Mifflintown farmer rethinks sustainability for family farm

During a college biology class Brett Reinford was motivated by a professor that was challenging the students to think and live more sustainably. He began to have inspiration about how his family farm could implement more sustainable practices into their processes. He researched ideas and came across the anaerobic digester technology. According to the epa.gov website “Anaerobic digesters are built systems (lagoons or tanks) where anaerobic digestion takes place. Anaerobic digesters manage organic wastes, produce gas and digested materials, minimize odors, reduce pathogens, and reduce solid wastes. Anaerobic digesters are also called “anaerobic digestion systems“, “biodigesters” or simply “digesters.”

Reinford Farms, located in Mifflintown, began its journey when Steve and Gina Reinford started with 57 cows in 1991. The farm has grown into a family operation. The Reinfords and their sons, Brett, Chad and Drew along with a team of employees manage around 1,400 acres of crop farming and an 800-cow dairy operation.

As any dairy farmer knows it comes with great challenges and is a difficult operation to maintain in today’s agricultural industry. Brett said, “The volatility of the diary and crop prices and then considering the unpredictability of weather means for a lot of uncertainty.” The family has used various forms of risk management and diversification over the years to keep the farm sustainable financially. He added, “We try to think opportunistically when we diversify. We look at what the farm is doing and look for commonalities in other business before we diversify into something non-farm related.”

After sharing the idea of bringing the digester technology to the farm with his father they decided it was something they wanted to try and proceeded with getting everything into place. The Reinfords began using the digester on their farm in 2008.

The digester technology offers a way for dairy farms with 350 cows or more to generate renewable electricity and limit odors. Brett shared, “Since we installed our first digester, we have recycled over 90,000 tons of food waste. Seventy percent of what goes into our digester is dairy cow manure from our farm. The remaining 30% of volume is food waste. The food waste we receive is usually from food manufacturers and distribution centers all over Pennsylvania.”

The Reinfords also have a de-packaging machine that separates the packaging, which is also sent for recycling, from the organic food waste material. The digester recycles the food waste and captures the methane it produces to generate electricity. The digester on the Reinford farm produces about 500 KWh. They net meter the power which means they sell it back to the grid and buy back what they need. The farm generates enough power for about 400 to 500 houses.

“Generally, when digesters are installed on farms, they produce more power than the farm needs. Brett said, “The bigger the farm the more power that can be produced. More and more farms are installing these digesters, in the United States there are close to 300 digesters in operation.” Brett added, “We wouldn’t have imagined a dozen years ago we would be doing something like this. The one thing about waste is there is always going to be more. It is a recession proof business, and it is a critical component to our farm’s bottom line.”

One individual may not be able to make a difference in protecting our environment. However, when each individual realizes they are part of a larger connected whole and all of humanity begins working together, just as it collectively caused damage to the planet, it can begin to heal and protect it. Like the Reinfords we can all find a way to help.

“The environment, after all, is where we all meet, where we all have mutual interest. It is one thing that all of us share. It is not only a mirror of ourselves, but a focusing lens on what we can become.” Lady Bird Johnson, First Lady of the United States (1963-69).

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