Hilarides and Borba Families
“Biomethane is clean, green and renewable and is the only vehicle fuel that is carbon negative.”
Hilarides Dairy ~ Lindsay, California
No stranger to innovation, Rob Hilarides has not one but two biogas digesters on his dairy near Lindsay in Tulare County.
The digesters are large, covered retention ponds where manure is stored until it can be used at the appropriate time as a crop fertilizer. During storage, the manure naturally breaks down to produce a biogas, methane, which Hilarides uses to power electrical generators on his farm. These supply all the electricity needs of his dairy and his daughters’ farmstead cheese factory, Three Sisters Cheese.
Yet Hilarides still had biogas to spare.
“Since we run a fleet of our own trucks, it was a chance to try and reduce our diesel fuel costs.”
Working with a partnership of dairy, conservation and government groups, Hilarides installed special equipment to clean and compress the gas, while converting some of his trucks to run on the alternative fuel. Now two milk trucks and six on-farm pickups run on renewable cow power gas instead of diesel fuel.
For his sustainability efforts, Hilarides was recently named the winner of the 2010 State Agricultural Stewardship Award.
The technology remains expensive, so it may be a few years before widespread use of cow-based transportation fuel is practical or cost-effective. However, if one day more cars and trucks travel California highways under cow power, it will be thanks to the early efforts of innovators like Hilarides.
“It’s a great family life. Your children are there with you on the ranch, and you can teach them a work ethic, and responsibility. It’s our heritage.”
George Borba Jr.
Borba Dairy ~ Bakersfield, California
At a dairy a few miles south of Bakersfield, a machine that looks like a cross between a tractor and a steamroller glides slowly up and down the shaded lanes of a large dairy barn. Twice a day, while cows are away in the milking parlor, the machine appears and vacuums up manure from the lanes. The manure is removed to a nearby field where it is soon to be incorporated, enriching the soil with organic nutrients to fertilize the next crop of corn.
It’s just one of the many innovative and sustainable environmental management techniques third-generation dairy farmer George Borba Jr. employs to ensure that his dairy is as environmentally sensitive as possible.
“We’re a lot more environmentally aware these days,” Borba says. “We have a lot more knowledge, more tools, and we’re using them. And we’re learning all the time.”
Borba relocated his dairy to Kern County in 2003—a big move for his family, which had been dairying in the Chino area east of Los Angeles since the 1920s. Faced with increasing urban encroachment, it was a logical move for a family steeped in dairying tradition but also thinking about the future.
“It was kind of hard to make the move after being in Chino so long, but we were thinking of the future, a future for our kids,” Borba says.
The Borba dairy was the first in California to undergo the highest level of environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (or CEQA), known as an Environmental Impact Report. The dictionary-thick report assesses every environmental aspect of the dairy and includes detailed engineering and management plans to minimize potential impacts to local air and water quality.
Even today, Borba continues to look for ways to improve environmental management on the dairy. He has even personally paid for studies to determine the best ways to further reduce emissions. He hopes it’s a way to guarantee his children a chance to continue in a family tradition that began when his grandfather Pete emigrated from the Azores in 1918 with just a sixth-grade education and a burning desire for a better life. Family legend has it that Pete crossed the country in a cattle car with 6 cents and five loaves of bread. He found a job milking cows in California, and within a few years started his own dairy.
“It’s a great family life,” Borba says. “Your children are there with you on the ranch, and you can teach them a work ethic, and responsibility. It’s our heritage.”