Pleasant Valley Farms, owned and operated by the St. Pierre family (Mark, Amanda, Meghan, Jamie, and Bradley), was constructed on its current location in 1998. Mark began farming on his own in 1986. The St. Pierre's have three children who are all active in 4-H through cows and horses. Today we can add the sweet nectar of Vermont maple syrup to the St Pierre's family farm. Maple syrup is a natural agricultural addition for this family dairy farm. In today's world diversification and protection of our natural resources is key.
The Origin of the Tradition
Maple syrup may not run in the veins of families, but it certainly is in the genealogy of both sides of the St. Pierre family. On his childhood farm, Mark's parents and grandparents milked the sweet maple sap of Vermont maple trees and made delicious maple syrup. In Franklin, Vermont, Amanda's grandparents on both sides drew sap from their maple orchards with horse teams, boiling in their sugarhouses in the woods. Today, dairy farmers Mark and Amanda St. Pierre are diversifying and starting a new family project—Vermont's Pleasant Valley Maples offering sweet, pure Vermont maple syrup.
In 2006, Pleasant Valley Farm became one of the early Vermont pioneers in alternative energy. Using methane, the natural by-product of cow waste, Berkshire Cow Power was born and began generating electricity on November 30, 2006. The farm produces over 40 million pounds of milk a year. All the dairy animals on Pleasant Valley Farm, from the wee babes to the big mommas help contribute to Cow Power! The farm also maintains an impressive workforce of 30-40 employees in an economically depressed area. The farm generates over 3.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year—enough power for 600 homes and all the electrical needs of the new Vermont Pleasant Valley Maple sugar house. Through Berkshire Cow Power this farm addresses the issues of alternative-fuel; harmful gas emissions and phosphorus run off. As natural resources go, animal manure is abundant and endlessly renewable. A single cow produces as much as 30 gallons a day, every day. "One thing for sure we can count on is a constant supply of it," says Mark St. Pierre.
The Process Behind Green Power
In the past, manure was pumped to large open pits. Methane given off by the manure escaped into the air. The smell escaped, too, especially when manure was spread on fields as fertilizer. Anaerobic digesters, also called methane digesters, solve both problems. Manure is swept from dairy barns by automated floor scrapers and goes down pipes into the digester, an insulated tank sunk most of the way into the ground. The digester, which holds about three weeks' worth of manure, contains bacteria similar to those in a cow's stomach. The tank is heated to 101 degrees which cooks the manure. The methane given off is piped away to two fuel generators named "Jim" and "Brian". What remains is separated into soft, odorless mulch similar to peat moss and liquid. The mulch is used as bedding for the cows instead of sawdust, saving on an increasing sawdust bill. Extra mulch is sold as garden fertilizer and also supplements the farm's bottom line. The liquid is pumped into the old manure lagoons and then spread on fields as fertilizer, just as raw manure is on other farms. The thinner liquid soaks into the ground more efficiently than raw manure and minimizes runoff from fields into waterways. Also, the neighbors are happy as it doesn't smell!
The Dairy Dilemma
Farmers in the Cow Power program still pay for the electricity they use on the farm, but they produce more than they use, selling what they produce to the electric company. Folks are able to contribute to the "Cow Power" program, supporting the digesters in Vermont already producing power and those that are developing them—visit CVPS.com
for more information. Vermont's open farm fields and the impressive views are what Cow Power buyers want to preserve. The rural landscape is a non-renewable resource.
A Way of Life
For the land to remain undeveloped by a farmer it needs to provide them with a living. Young people are more likely to leave the farm for other occupations then in generations past, which is partially due to the constant struggle to succeed and not drown in debt. Milk prices in the past have been cyclical in nature on a 36-month rollercoaster ride. A farmer used to pass his farm on to the younger members of the family and remain taken care of—no 401k plan for them. Without that option, the choices are slim trying to find another farmer to buy up the land or sell it for development. Farming is a unique and positive way of life that can only be retained by getting a fair price for the products produced.