The best kind of sustainability is to take a waste product and turn it into a valuable resource; to turn garbage, as it were, into gold. There’s a farm family in northwestern Connecticut doing just that these days, and in the process it’s also creating an opportunity for gardeners.
Amanda Freund is, along with her sister Rachel and brother Isaac, the third generation of her family to work the Freund Family Farm in East Canaan, Connecticut. Historically it has been a dairy farm and the Freunds still milk some 300 cows. Keeping that kind of herd creates a potential for serious pollution: the farm’s acreage sits in the watershed of two rivers and its cows deposit some 30,000 lbs. of manure and urine every day.
But, says Amanda. her father Matthew decided to treat the manure piling up in the barn not as a problem but as an opportunity. Twenty years ago he installed a digester that extracts methane from the manure, producing enough gas to heat the family home while also separating the manure’s liquid from its solids. The liquid, as a sort of manure tea, the farm pumps out to use as fertilizer on its 400-500 acres of corn and other crops. The solids Matthew used to process into compost which he sold through his wife’s garden center. But then he found a better use.
Starting with a pot on the kitchen stove, he began experimenting with turning the manure solids into biodegradable growing containers; by 2006 he had a product ready for sale and the machinery he needed to manufacture it in bulk. This container has, in a university test, proved superior to other biodegradable containers such as peat pots in at least one very important respect. Once in the soil, once transplanted into a garden bed, the “cow pots” (as the Freunds call them) break down faster and more completely so that the gardener is less likely to experience what I have always found to be a disadvantage with peat pots, that when I pull plants at the end of the growing season, their roots are still largely confined to the pots in which I originally planted them.
Amanda Freund suspects that it is the nitrogen content of cow pots that enhances their decay. And of course, unlike peat pots, which draw on what many experts maintain is, in practical terms, a non-renewable resource, cow pots are tapping a renewable resource in over-abundant supply. To date, her family has produced some 35 million of these ingenious containers, controlling water pollution on the farm while conserving natural resources. You’ll find them for sale during the winter-spring seed-starting season at local retailers and on-line as well. Why not do your bit for the environment and give your plants a treat? Give cowpots a try.