Green Mountain College junior Ryan Dixon guides oxen while junior Casey Martin drives a cutting machines (GMC photo)
By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
Many people I know are attempting to reduce their carbon footprint when it comes to food. A few try to only buy locally grown vegetables to avoid emissions from transporting their salad ingredients from far away. An acquaintance has given up beef because its production gives off more greenhouse gases than chicken. A few people I’ve met are actually trying to grow all their own food.
Green Mountain College in Poultney Vermont, is taking it all a step further – attempting to see if its 24-acre Cerridwen Farm organic operations – from potato picking to cow milking – can be done with no reliance on fossil fuels whatsoever.
The four-year liberal arts college has given up tractors in favor of oxen to plow and hay. It’s installed solar collectors atop a barn roof to heat water for its two-cow dairy operation. Carbon dioxide emitted from the metabolisms of 80 chickens is shared with a next door greenhouse where CO2 levels can dip during the winter.
And the farm – through an intensive new Farm Life Ecology summer class that includes students from other colleges – has an influx of manual labor which doesn’t use fossil fuels at all.
“Modern agriculture is heavily reliant on oil and other fossil energy sources – it’s extremely inefficient, with more than 20 calories required to produce and deliver one food calorie to a consumer’s plate,’’ said farm manager and ecology economist Kenneth Mulder. The college's effort is helped in large part from a $110,000 grant from the Jensen/Hinman Family Fund.
Mulder doesn’t have any expectation that the nation's farms will go fossil free. He even still has to use a bit to power the barn lights and a rototiller.
But if future farming is to be more local and sustainable, he believes students should be exploring organic growing in the context of traditional farming practices. It also gives students a more “intimate relationship” with the farm.
But most of all, in an age of factory farming Mulder says, “it shows it can be done.”