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Farmers In Connecticut Looking To Extract Dollars From Leftover Food

Patrick Skahill
An anaerobic digester (AD) operated by Quantum Biopower in Southington, photographed in 2017. Four more AD units are being proposed as part of a new state energy RFP.

You can think of an anaerobic digester as a big metal stomach. Biodegradables go in, get composted, and turned into energy. And now, the hope is that the waste turns into a profit.

Matthew Freund, president of Freund’s Farm in East Canaan, said that anaerobic digestion technology let him diversify his business. A unit built in 1997 took in cow manure and allowed him to create a new product: biodegradable seed planters called “CowPots.”

“We’ve got a flow chart of the cow,” Freund said. “She backs up to an anaerobic digester, does her business. We digest it and make energy. Then we create the fibers, making the ‘CowPots.’ So it’s full circle, the cow gives us everything.”

The planters were popular with gardners. And now, Freund’s farm is hoping to take that business to the next level. They’ve partnered with with Vanguard Renewables to build a new anaerobic digestion unit, which could also take in food waste from surrounding towns.

It’s all in response to a new state RFP for clean energy. Vanguard would lease the land from Freund and sell the electricity back into the grid.

John Hanselman is Vanguard’s CEO. He said the untapped quantities of food waste sitting in Connecticut right now could mean big profits.

“The potential -- I think -- for renewable energy generation from anaerobics, is enormous,” he said.

It also means an easy place for farmers like Freund to put their cow manure, which helps cut harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

“A real hope was to be able to produce renewable energy from farm waste, in combination with food waste,” Hanselman said, “as well as reducing their carbon impact, their greenhouse gas emissions, and their odors.”

Vanguard is working on another anaerobic digestion proposal with Oak Ridge Dairy in Ellington. And the company currently operates three anaerobic digestion units in Massachusetts with another two in development.

Connecticut is expected to announce if it’s selected the two farm digestion projects -- and two other non-agriculturally sited anaerobic ventures -- in the coming months.

Matthew Freund said he hopes the state RFP process works out, but no matter what, he’ll continue working with anaerobic digesters.

“We really feel strongly that it’s a good technology that pays dividends,” Freund said.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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