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Lake Middle School students hear from milk company founder, farmer

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Lake Middle School students have proven that they are not nincompoops

On Feb. 18 Sue McCloskey, co-founder of Fairlife Milk, gave a presentation to Logan Carstensen’s science class on renewable energy after one of Carstensen’s students found an error on Fairlife’s labeling.

“We were just blown away that we were being approached by an eighth grader and very impressed and appreciative that he would point that out to us,” McCloskey said.

In addition to the presentation, McCloskey brought milk for all of Carstensen’s students.

Metric system misuse

Earlier this school year Carstensen assigned his students to try to find misuse of the metric system on the labels of household items.

“Every year we start with an intro to the metric system and talk about how the U.S. doesn’t use metrics and everybody else does,” he said, “which is why companies tend to misuse metrics.”

After an error is found, students are then encouraged to write letters to the companies in order to bring the error to the company’s attention.

LMS eighth grader Sam Haskins began sifting through his pantry and refrigerator before he found a misuse of the metric system on a bottle of Fairlife Milk.

A space between the number and unit of measurement was left off of the label.

After Fairlife received Haskins’ letter, McCloskey and Fairlife were so appreciative that they offered to give a presentation to Haskins and his class.

“I honestly didn’t think I’d hear a response or make a difference,” Haskins said. “But it’s kind of cool that they noticed you and that you’re helping out a company.”

Renewable energy on the farm

McCloskey said she wanted to give a presentation to Carstensen’s class because it was an opportunity to introduce students to the world of agriculture.

“We want students to understand that there are people out there making nutrition for them,” she said.

Additionally, McCloskey said, she wanted to introduce students to the science behind farming.

“People kind of think we’re Johnny Appleseeds going out there throwing seeds every which way,” she said, “but really there’s a lot of really cool science in farming.”

McCloskey and her husband Mike founded Fairlife Milk, an ultra-filtered milk that includes more protein, more calcium, less sugars and no lactose.

Fairlife Milk is produced at the 15,000-acre Fair Oaks Farm in Indiana.

During her presentation at LMS, McCloskey discussed with students how her farm uses cow manure as a form of renewable energy.

“Poop is cool,”she said. “Poop is interesting.”

On average, each of Fair Oaks Farms’ 15,000 cows produce about 125 pounds, or 15 gallons, of manure every day, of which McCloskey and the other farmers have to dispose.

“That’s a lot of crap we have to deal with,” she said. “That’s more than the milk we get from our cows.”

So rather than using the manure on their fields, Fair Oaks Farms decided to put the manure through an anaerobic digestion process.

Through anaerobic digestion the manure is placed in large digester tanks, which constantly agitate the manure.

After 21 days the gasses from the manure, primarily methane with a little carbon dioxide, rise to the top and it can be collected.

Initially Fair Oaks Farm used the collected gas, called compressed natural biogas, to power the buildings on the farm.

However, the digesters produced more gas than they had use for, so they thought to sell the gas to the electric companies.

The electric companies did not offer to pay enough money so the farm could break even.

Ultimately Fair Oaks Farm thought of using the gas, if they could clean the gas up enough to be mostly methane, to power its equipment, including its trucks.

“We as farmers knew we had this poop problem to solve,” McCloskey said, “and the milk has to move every day, so we realized that we have a constant supply of fuel and a constant need for trucks.”

Fair Oaks Farms produces about 150,000 gallons of milk a day.

After some trial and error, and working with a trucking and engine company, Fair Oaks Farm was able to fuel 42 semi-trailers to deliver milk.

Fair Oaks Farm’s trucks are able to reduce about 2 million gallons of diesel from the atmosphere.

The remaining manure in the digesters then becomes a high-quality fertilizer which is then spread on Fair Oaks Farm’s fields, producing crops that are harvested to feed their dairy cows.

“It’s this really neat circle of life,” McCloskey said. “We think it’s a great story.”

Carstensen said he really enjoyed McCloskey’s presentation and was appreciative of her time.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to see science in action,” he said.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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