Waste Not
Maine Farmers Feeding Crops, Livestock with Brewery and Coffee Shop Waste

Organic matter produced during brewing and coffee roasting processes is becoming a farming and gardening staple as an effective, low-cost alternative to commercial fertilizer and feed for a growing contingent of farmers and gardeners in Maine, according to the Bangor Daily News.

As more of the state’s ubiquitous microbreweries are finding ways to make their operations more sustainable, they’ve realized repurposing their spent grains as fertilizers eliminates waste, while simultaneously benefitting local farms and gardens.

“This is part of the food chain, and we are recycling it,” Norm Justice, a Gorham farmer who started partnering with Allagash Brewing Company to feed his cattle years ago, recently told Bangor Daily News. “Allagash is very progressive in that regard. I’ve grown with them.” Allagash now has a spent grain silo, making it easy for Justice to collect 70 to 80 tons of spent grain per week.

As an added bonus, Justice says he takes the spent grain, produced after brewers extract sugars, flavor and color from malted grain, and runs a successful side business selling the feed to dairy farms in southern and western Maine.

“Dairy farms are huge consumers of it. It’s a lot lower-cost feed than commercial,” Justice said. “Any animal that is going to eat grain will consume this — except for horses.”

“For us, it’s a great resource all around,” said Allagash brewmaster Jason Perkins. “Basically, it’s waste for us. We have something that turns into good, solid food for animals. It feels great, for sure.”

Last year, a federal restriction proposal under the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act would have required new packaging, processing and handling procedures for any food products consumed by animals, which would’ve threatened partnerships such as these. But the brewing industry and federal lawmakers pushed the FDA to exempt breweries from the rule change, leading the FDA to exempt breweries and distilleries from the restrictions in its rule proposal.

Portland sheep farm owner Lisa Webster has a “brew to ewe” program that uses spent grain from five local microbreweries - Rising Tide, Shipyard Brewing, Bissell Brothers, Foundation Brewing Company and Austin Street Brewery. She says the collected grain makes up about 10 percent of her sheep’s diet, enhances their pasture diet with taste and texture, and makes a more flavorful experience for the animals, which is important in their quality of life.

“It’s a win-win. Brewers don’t have to dispose of their product, and I am able to take it away at a cost savings,” Webster said.

Breweries aren’t the only Maine businesses upcycling their waste. Growing roaster Coffee By Design partnered with Lisa Fernandes of The Resilience Hub and Portland Maine Permaculture, which use its coffee bean chaff for “composting, mulching and duck and chicken bedding because it absorbs nitrogen so well,” Fernandes said.

After 21 years in business, Coffee By Design bought state-of-the-art roasters for its new headquarters, enabling the company to separate the chaff making for an “easy transfer.” Before the new roasters, coffee bean husks were simply thrown out.

The coffee currently donates chaff to the Resilience Hub and local farmers, and used grounds, discarded after brewing, are excellent additions to composts piles, help with mushroom growth and serve as mulch.

Maine’s microbreweries aren’t the only ones making delicious use of their waste: Last week, MillerCoors announced a partnership with biotech company Nutrinsic to turn the brewer’s wastewater into sustainable protein used in fish and animal feed.

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