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Sustainable Dairy? GSEI Student Leader visits Fair Oaks Farm in Indiana

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Fair Oaks Farm

 

By Clara Cecil, MSB'18

How on earth are we going to feed 9 billion people by the year 2050?

This seemed like a daunting question before I spent a March weekend visiting Fair Oaks Farm in Indiana with eight other Georgetown students, through an immersive learning trip organized by the Georgetown Office of Sustainability. Fair Oaks Farm, part of the Select Milk Producers farm cooperative, sources to the fairlife milk brand, and many of its products are distributed by The Coca-Cola Company. The farm and its associated brands are revolutionizing the dairy industry by implementing sustainable practices and are striving to change the negative stigma surrounding large-scale farming operations. By the end of the weekend, I felt more optimistic about the future of food, largely due to the guidance and passion of Fair Oaks Farm owners Mike and Sue McCloskey.

The McCloskeys firmly believe that dairy farming, often viewed as an inherently unsustainable operation, is indeed sustainable. Highly regarded in the farming world, the McCloskeys spent an entire day touring us around the farm and sharing some of their revolutionary practices. They employ “scale for good,” recognizing that their large-scale farm operations enable them to gain efficiencies and to install expensive equipment that would not as quickly gain a return on investment on a smaller farm. One of the farm’s best practices is its use of anaerobic digesters to convert cow manure into methane gas, which powers the farm and its fleet of trucks and also serves as a profit center. Through this sustainable operation, the farm minimizes its reliance on other expensive fuels and is striving to become a zero carbon footprint dairy farm.

The McCloskeys recognize lingering concerns about the long-term sustainability of dairy farming, especially as it relates to the industry’s water footprint and packaging. Another challenge they face is educating consumers about where their food comes from, especially when not everyone has the same opportunity to see the operations firsthand. For this reason, Fair Oaks Farm is completely open to the public and welcomes over 600,000 visitors per year. Recognizing sustainability as a precompetitive issue, Fair Oaks Farm and fairlife milk are dedicated to sharing their best practices and to learning from the experiences of others around the world. The McCloskeys are visiting Georgetown on April 5 to continue the conversations we began on the farm, this time with more students and faculty members, and to determine Georgetown’s role in this partnership moving forward.