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New Farm Powered Strategic Alliance Highlights Circular Solution to Food Waste, GHG Reduction

Unilever, Starbucks and Dairy Farmers of America have joined the historic alliance, which calls on the food industry to embrace the simple, circular relationship between food waste and its potential to reduce greenhouse gases.

I am thrilled to share the launch of Vanguard RenewablesFarm Powered Strategic Alliance (FPSA) — along with our founding partners Unilever, Starbucks and Dairy Farmers of America. This historic alliance commits to reducing food waste from manufacturing and the supply chain and repurposing any unavoidable waste into renewable energy via Vanguard Renewables’ farm-based anaerobic digesters.

FPSA members also commit to begin the process of decarbonizing their thermal energy usage, by converting to renewable natural gas (RNG) derived from their food waste. It is a call to action for the food industry to embrace this simple, circular relationship between food waste and its potential reduction of greenhouse gases. By committing to food-waste recycling, FPSA members have moved climate change and regenerative agriculture to the forefront of their sustainability agendas.

This unprecedented commitment by food industry leaders is an inducement for others to work to avert a climate crisis and shape a sustainable future for the US and the planet. The initial members of the Alliance came together because they understand that their potential for greatest, immediate impact on climate change would be to take waste out of landfills, separate the gas from the beneficial nutrients, and return those nutrients to the soil. This transformative movement will repurpose food waste that cannot be eliminated into renewable energy and low-carbon fertilizer for farm use. Working with our FPSA partners, we plan to expand our organics-recycling facility network to all major metro areas nationwide over the next five years.

Tackling food waste while supporting US farms

The food-waste recycling revolution that started in Europe is now beginning to take hold in the US, where more than 40 percent of all food produced ends up in incinerators and landfills. Project Drawdown’s 2020 Review cites food-waste reduction as the number-one solution in a list of 80+ solutions for combating climate change. While eliminating food waste is a priority; some amount of waste is unavoidable due to health, safety or quality concerns — for which the food is still discarded.

A Farm Powered anaerobic digester at Bar-Way Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts | Image courtesy of Vanguard Renewables

Food waste can either end up as a damaging greenhouse gas or as renewable natural gas — a powerful tool in fighting climate change. Vanguard Renewables uses anaerobic digesters on farms to capture this energy and generate RNG to be used in homes and manufacturing plants across the nation. Moreover, the process produces low-carbon fertilizer that host farms use to support regenerative agriculture practices. This in turn supports US farmers with increased crop production and decreased costs.

How the alliance will work

Vanguard Renewables is one of the country’s leading food waste recyclers — with more than 20 Farm Powered anaerobic digesters in operation, construction and development across the United States. Vanguard will continue to site and build new facilities to provide the opportunity for organics recycling for the current and future Farm Powered Strategic Alliance partners. Alliance members commit to sending their endemic waste to a Vanguard Renewables anaerobic digester and to procure the resulting RNG to lower their dependence on fossil fuels.

Food industry leaders issue ‘call to action

My expectation is that the FPSA will grow to include other leading US food manufacturers and retailers; and will have the potential to not only reduce the members’ direct emissions, but to also reduce the hard to move Scope 3 emissions from their supply chain partners. The arrangement provides a sustainable use for their food waste while generating carbon-negative, renewable energy to power the partners’ facilities. What’s important to note is the significant impact that the Farm Powered Strategic Alliance will have on the sustainability of farms across the country, for future generations.

For our current and future partners with food retail and supply chain operations, the FPSA has far-reaching benefits. Ale Eboli, Head of Supply Chain Operations for Unilever North America said it well:

“Unilever is accelerating action to fight climate change, regenerate nature and preserve resources. We are excited to join the Farm Powered Strategic Alliance, and are inspired by their vision to repurpose our unavoidable food waste to support renewable energy production and regenerative agriculture practice on farms across America. We cannot transition to a low-carbon economy alone, and encourage other businesses to join us in this crucial alliance.”

Starbucks Chief Sustainability Officer Michael Kobori notes:

“The Farm Powered Strategic Alliance is an impactful solution to tackling both food waste and carbon emissions. We've made great strides in eliminating food waste at the store level with our Starbucks Foodshare program, which has helped divert 25 million meals from landfills. The FPSA offers an innovative solution for our supply chain, and brings us one step closer to our goal of a resource-positive future.”

Dairy Farmers of America joined the Alliance to continue its important work on climate-change reduction.

“Dairy Farmers of America has been working with Vanguard Renewables for more than six years to empower family farms and support a more circular economy,” said David Darr, Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer for Dairy Farmers of America. “Anaerobic digestion can change the economics and carbon footprint of a farm, allowing generational sustainability and energy independence. We are excited to see many more of our farms and dairy processing facilities taking advantage of the new carbon economy to make a positive impact on America.”

The FPSA is bigger than the sum of its parts

We all believe that today’s announcement is just the first step in building a coalition of like-minded companies that are committed to our country’s low-carbon future. The FPSA returns nutrients to our soil, displaces fossil fuels, and creates a business model for generations to come.

A farmer’s perspective

The Melnik family of Bar-Way Farm | Image courtesy of Vanguard Renewables

Even before COVID hit, farms had been under extreme financial stress. According to Farm Aid, between 2013 and 2018 farmers experienced a nearly 50 percent drop in net farm income — as prices for corn, wheat, dairy, beef and other farm products crashed.

Peter Melnik of Bar-Way Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts — host of a Farm Powered anaerobic digester — says: "When I took over the farm in the '90s after college, what was key to me was sustainability — making the farm economically viable, environmentally viable, viable for the neighbors and the surrounding community, and a good place to grow up and to be."

Bar-Way Farm is a multi-generational, 600-acre dairy farm, founded in 1919 and operated by Steven Melnik and his son, Peter. More than 300 cows are milked each day, producing an average of 2,000 gallons of milk daily. The farm is a member of Dairy Farmers of America.

Vanguard Renewables’ Farm Powered Anaerobic Digester was constructed at Bar-Way Farm in 2016 and features a 660,000-gallon capacity anaerobic digester tank. The facility combines more than 9,000 tons of manure and 36,500 tons of food waste annually and converts it to renewable energy. This offsets more than 2 million pounds of CO2 emissions annually. The 7,700 MWh of renewable energy produced each year by the Deerfield anaerobic digester system is enough to power 1,600 homes.

Manure from the farm operation and organic food and beverage waste are combined in the digester to produce renewable energy and low-carbon fertilizer. The farm receives an annual lease payment for hosting the anaerobic digester and energy savings. They also receive no-cost animal bedding, hot water and heat.

“If you’re just going to milk cows or grow lettuce, that’s really hard because it’s cyclical; you need to be diversified and not depend upon just one income stream. A lot of dairies have been really struggling; the Farm Powered anaerobic digester has been an important part of making our farm sustainable,” Melnik says.