Concern for the health of our planet is on the rise and families are buying foods without pesticides, recycling, reducing waste and practicing other earth-friendly behaviors. We are also much more aware that, just as the foods we eat nourish our bodies, sustainably grown food nurtures the earth. Did you know that dairy farmers are making these changes, too?

Dairy farms are striving to implement sustainable farming practices to make wholesome, delicious milk while supporting the health of our environment, the wellness of the cattle and the lives of farmers. By using manure as a natural fertilizer, converting waste into renewable energy and extensively recycling water throughout the farm, modern dairy farms are prioritizing environmental stewardship and sustainability. Take a peek into the fascinating world of a dairy farm to learn more about how the milk that nourishes your body is produced using practices that support the health of our planet.

Repurposing Waste

While many of us think of manure as waste, dairy farmers see it as a valuable resource. On a dairy farm, manure is a natural fertilizer that enriches the soil and increases its water holding capacity. Spreading manure on the field decreases a farm’s need for synthetic fertilizers and reduces the use of groundwater to grow crops. In a sense, cows are their own recyclers – while a cow eats about one acre of forage per year, its manure provides the fertilizer for that acre.

Generating Renewable Energy

We usually associate greenhouse gases with carbon dioxide – but methane is actually more damaging to the atmosphere. Cattle are significant producers of methane. New technologies enable dairy farmers to use environmentally harmful gases, like methane from manure, as a renewable energy source. Machines called anaerobic manure digesters convert manure into biogas, which generates energy, reduces feedlot odors and lowers greenhouse gas emissions. In the process, methane digesters also compost manure and provide an antibacterial bedding source similar to sawdust that helps limit the spread of harmful microorganisms and helps keep cattle healthy.

Conserving Water

As stewards of the land of 10,000 lakes, Minnesotans appreciate the value of water as a natural resource. Dairy farms make an extensive effort to recycle the water used throughout their farming processes by collecting rain water from barns for irrigation, reusing milk-cooling water as cow drinking water and reusing water used to clean milking parlors and feed alleys to irrigate the fields.

Shared Responsibility for Sustainability

Just as we as individuals are changing our behavior for the good of the planet, dairy farmers are also leading efforts to increase sustainability and reduce waste on their farms. We, as individuals, can have an impact on greenhouse gases by reducing our personal food waste by planning meals, reducing portion sizes and choosing nutrient-dense foods. We can also make a big difference by shopping and cooking smarter.  For dairy products, get to know your farmers – choose dairy that is sourced from dairy farms that are helping bring sustainability to the food system, reducing our carbon footprint and helping dairy cows lead happy, healthy lives. Here are two recipes that use tasty, nutritious dairy products, and have the added advantage of stretching your resources by allowing you to “Cook Once and Eat Twice.” The Buttermilk-Brined Chicken is a delicious entrée on its own and you can use the leftover chicken in the Chicken Ricotta Apple Pita sandwiches.

You will love the way you feel!