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Methane from cow waste is a greenhouse gas and one of the largest single forms of air pollution in California. It’s literally heating up the planet. My local dairy decided to do something about it. They installed a methane digester that converts methane waste into a useful fuel to power machinery on the farm, reducing their energy costs by 90 percent. That’s how sustainability works: a series of small, deliberate gestures that both inspire people and shift a society’s consciousness, as we become local. — Douglas Gayeton

As America’s food system consolidates, many dairy farms adapt intensive farming practices to confine livestock. In this edition of Food List, we investigate the impact of these economies of scale and solutions that arise from these pressures.

When dairy cattle are confined in tight quarters of CAFOs and introduced to synthetic hormones, like rBST, to artificially increase milk production, a plethora of issues arise. Subtherapeutic antibiotics need to be administered as the cows are exposed to stress and disease. Water quality is jeopardized by the leaching of synthetic additives administered to cows. And methane, a major source of air pollution, can be found in massive pocket clouds above CAFOs, as a result of the concentrated number of cows in a confined space.

Some family farms resist these conventions dairy practices. They find ways to accommodate. They don’t use rBST or other growth hormones and often raise their dairy cows on pasture. They also adhere to ethical treatment practices and even upcycle manure, transforming it into fertilizer and biofuel. These dairy farmers are responsible stewards of their lands and vital figures in the rebuilding of sustainable local food systems.

Is organic, sustainable raised dairy worth it? Artisanal cheese makers would answer with a resounding “yes.” The quality of the dairy makes all the difference, especially with respect to the terroir of cheese.

The say the happiest cows are found in fields, where they can roam stress free and enjoy a traditional diet. Can you taste the difference between organic dairy and conventionally produced? What are some of you favorite locally produced dairy goods? We invite you to investigate the terroir of your region’s dairy.

This week's terms

Animal Welfare

Based on demonstrable and measurable outcomes that impact an animal's welfare in terms of its overall well-being, its access to clean water and pasture, the health of its environment, the feed it consumes, and the animal's day to day care from birth to death.


A concentrated animal feed opration (CAFO) is defined by the number and type of animals confined, and/or is designated by the EPA to be a significant contributor to surface water pollution. 


Bovine Somatotrpin (rBST or rBSH) is an injectable growth hormone that was created with biotechnology to artificially increase milk production in dairy cows. Dairy is now often labeled 'rBST free" to inform consumers.

Subtherapeutic Antibiotics

Low Level dosages used for extended periods of time on otherwise healthy livestock, mainly to increase their weight gain.

Methane Digester

Methane from cow waste is a greenhouse gas and one of the largest single forms of air pollution in California. It's literally heating up the planet. A methane digester converts methan waste into a useful fuel to power machinery on a farm, which could reduce energy costs by 90%. 

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