New York Creamery Is Powered by Waste

Photo courtesy of Craigs Creamery

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“It kind of sounds like a thing out of Star Wars, doesn’t it?” says Chris Noble, co-owner of Noblehurst Farm, one of the eight farms that founded Craigs Creamery and home to the creamery and its biodigester. “The technology has been around a long time. They’re used in Europe to recycle organic waste to provide decentralized, smaller power units in local communities.”

Organic material—food waste, anything that grows, and, in the case of Craigs Creamery, that includes cow manure—goes into the biodigester, a large domed structure. Inside, the waste gets “digested” anaerobically, or without oxygen, and separates into nutrient-rich liquids, methane gas, and solids. It comes out as organic fertilizer to spray on the fields, green energy to power the creamery, and material to serve as bedding for the cows.

It’s a relatively simple technology that’s not yet widely used in the US. Noble and the rest of the farmers at Craigs Creamery hope that changes. Their biodigester has recycled 20 million pounds of food scraps from the local community since its inception in 2014. Twenty million pounds of old food that doesn’t need to get trucked to a distant landfill. Twenty million pounds of vegetable peels and eggshells not creating greenhouse gases. Instead, that 20 million pounds of waste rots in an enclosed environment where the gas it emits can be harnessed and put to use.

“Our farm has been around since the 1820s,” says Noble. “We’re part of this community. Traditional dairy farming was always a closed circle, with the waste being fed back into the ground to grow the feed to feed the cows to produce the waste, so in a way, a biodigester was a natural fit for us.”

The family farms that provide the milk for Craigs Creamy are run by multi-generational farmers.

“We grew up playing sports together and our families know each other,” says Noble. “We have a real common bond.”

Part of that bond is geographic: The farms providing the milk to make Craigs Creamery cheese are all within 20 miles of the creamery in Western New York.

Part of the bond is philosophical.

“We were already pretty closely aligned in how we farmed, even before coming together,” says Noble. “We all grow most of the feed we feed our cows. We’re all both farmers and dairy families.”

That’s part of the closed circle: The dairy farm tradition where the cows’ manure is used to fertilize the crops that make up their feed when they aren’t on pasture. The biodigester applies that traditional process to also power the creamery. In addition, solar panels provide energy to heat the water that is used to clean the barns and parlor, that water issued at the cheese plant recycled, and the farms all practice energy audits to identify efficiency opportunities.

The Craigs Creamery biodigester also creates local jobs, including positions for individuals with disabilities. It even provides energy to the local community when demand rises in the winter.

Craigs Creamery products are produced with milk only from these family-run farms and only from cows that are fed diets of primarily locally-sourced feed, with no added hormones. Only all-natural ingredients are used to make the cheese.

“It doesn’t hurt,” Noble adds, “that our cheese tastes really good.”

Indeed. The medium-mild cheddar cheese was recognized in the 2018 Dairy Products competition for Class 1, American-style cheese and won an Award of Excellence at the New York State Fair. And just this year, the sharp cheddar cheese was awarded Gold for Class 2, Aged Cheddar Cheese at the fair. It is all New York State Grown & Certified.

Small farms making high-quality products aren’t anything new at farmers markets and gourmet stores around the country, but that’s not what Craigs Creamery is about. These are everyday cheeses people can find at chain grocery stores.

“The affordability factor is a big thing for us,” says Noble. “We want to be doing things that are ultimately sustainable for us, our workers, and the planet, but we also want to make great, fresh food all families can enjoy.”

*Craigs Creamery cheese, made with high-quality, locally-sourced milk, all-natural ingredients, and no added hormones, can be found at Giant Food, Stop & Shop, ShopRite, Wegmans, and Tops stores in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC. Products include whole milk mozzarella, Swiss, and Muenster cheeses, as well as mild, medium, and sharp cheddar.