Profile: A Connecticut Green Business Owner
In the days before “big agriculture” and “corporate farming,” all farming and all farmers were “green.” Many farms still are; especially those diminishing few who still run their family farms. Brothers Matt and Ben Freund are just such a pair of green farmers. Through their own inventiveness and with a little help, they have made their business even greener and have done so by making use of that most natural and plentiful of all farm byproducts – cow poop.
324 Norfolk Road
East Canaan, CT 06024
The Farmers of Freund’s – Where Even the Cow Poop Has Gone Green
Matt and Ben Freund grew up on and now manage their family’s farm. With nearly 300 cows, 600 acres of corn, 200 acres of managed forest and a market, Freund’s at first looks like any other big multigenerational family farm in Connecticut, but Freund’s is not the usual family farm — it is much more than that. It is an agribusiness, and a green one at that.
There are two words that make Freund’s unique — cow poop. Every farm has it, especially dairy farms, which at its heart is what Freund’s has always been. But Matt and Ben Freund have found a new use for it — several new uses actually.
The Digester – Turning Poop Into Power
First came the idea to turn cow poop into energy, and thus was built the Northwest Corner’s first methane digester. Officially known as an “Anaerobic Digester” and initially designed by Resource Conservation Management, Inc., this invention was intended to help manage manure – something that every farm and every dairy farm in particular can quite literally drown in. Matthew Freund, however, realized that with a few modifications, it could also be used to generate energy to run the farm.
A digester separates the liquid from the fiber in cow manure. The liquid goes into a pond and the solid waste into another storage facility. Matt modified his digester to produces biogas to fuel a Burnham hot water boiler. That boiler heats the family farm house, the farm’s office and the milking center. It also allowed the Freund family to build a 15,000-cubic-foot greenhouse, which also gets its power from the poop.
About 14,000 cubic feet of gas is produced daily. In addition to saving on energy costs for the farm and reducing the farm’s carbon footprint, the digester has helped reduce the nasty and dangerous pathogens found in manure, and has helped reduce the odor generated by his herd (although as neighbors and anyone driving by the farm can tell and the Freund’s freely admit, the air is still anything but clear and sweet, not with almost 300 cows pooping around the clock).
CowPots – Cow Poop as Planters
The Freund boys did not stop with turning poop into power – they found a new use for the solid waste that comes out of the digester. They use it to map flower pots. With encouragement, support and help from Cornel, UCONN (University of Connecticut) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (and its Beltsville, Maryland research center in particular), the Freunds devised a way to make pots out of “100 percent renewable composted cow manure.”
CowPots are now a big business, and an automated one at that, at Freunds. The farmers have even been on Larry King to talk about it, and have been interviewed by local and national news organizations and magazines and have appeared on the Discovery Channel to talk about their green invention. The pots, says Ben, are “earth-friendly” and “high-performing.” They provide more nutrition for plants than pots made of peat, are a viable alternative to clay and are much, much better for the environment than plastic planters – which are made from petroleum byproducts and do not degrade. The CowPots, moreover, allow for “unrestricted root growth.”
From Farm Stand to Farm Market – and Much, Much More
No family farm would be complete without a farm market, and no farm would be complete without a farmer’s wife. Theresa Freund is Matt’s wife, and while a farmer in her own right, is also the force behind Freund’s Farm Market. She has taken an old 1950s family farm stand and turned it into a year-round enclosed market, garden shop, bakery and caterer. The business also does floral design and has a gift shop.
It’s All About the Cows…and the Corn
Freund’s was and still is a dairy farm. The milk from its thousand cows is collected by trucks that take it to the Cabot Creamery in Vermont – where it is turned into Cabot Cheese. Freund’s also grows corn, and a lot of it. Some goes to local markets (and the family farm store) but much of the harvest goes to feed the cows – who make the poop that makes the power and the pots in this greenest of green farms.
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Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.