Catlin Farmstead is a dairy and compost operation owned by the Catlin family located in Winchendon, MA. The Center for EcoTechnology provided grant-writing assistance which helped Catlin Farmstead to partly fund a compost aeration and heat recovery system on their farm. We were offered a tour of their facility to see the completed system, and were excited upon arriving at the farm to see the roof covered in solar panels and a sign for compost directing us behind the building! As we approached the back of the property, there was a tent with information about the farm operation and delicious samples of cheese. We were greeted by one of the farm owners, Jake Catlin, and Brian Jerose from AgriLab Technologies, the company that developed the compost aeration and heat recovery process used on the farm.

As we headed toward the composting operation, Jake Catlin recounted the evolving story of Catlin Farmstead. When the Catlins took ownership, the former owner, David Smith, stayed on-board as a mentor to the new cheese and compost producers. The farm has a herd of 200 cows, that their store, Smith’s Country Cheese, uses to produce raw milk, which must age for at least 60 days to make their esteemed artisanal cheeses.

Compost piles

bagged compost

Our first stop on the tour was seeing the end product: bagged compost. Cow manure is used to make their revered Otter River Black Gold Compost. The main consumers of their product are local home gardeners and landscapers, as well as large garden clubs in Massachusetts. I ended up taking home some of their compost tea, which is the nitrogen rich liquid produced by the compost pile, for my house plants!

 

dairy cows

The next stop was to see the stars of the show, the cows. Cow manure is one of the main ingredients in Catlin’s compost. Additional ingredients include wood chips, ash, sand, sawdust, and short paper fiber. After saying thanks to the cows for their massive contributions to both the cheese and compost, we finished our tour at the compost aeration and heat recovery system. Catlin’s Farmstead contains the first permanent installation of its kind in Massachusetts!

This aeration and heat recovery system, which combines both compost creation and heat recovery to speed up the compost production process, uses the bacteria within the piles to contribute to aerobic digestion. The result of this organic breakdown is a significant amount of heat that is used to further dry the compost. This new system catches hot air from four compost piles using an insulated tube system that runs through the bottom of the piles to an equipment shed where the heat recovery and aeration system is located. Temperature, oxygen levels, and vapor flow rates are constantly being monitored. The result of this dual system has been a notable increase in compost production.

diagram of compost drying system

Diagram of the four compost piles using an insulated tube system that runs through the bottom of the piles to an equipment shed on the left side.

Catlin Farmstead is using the heat from the compost piles to kick-start the aerobic digestion and to expeditiously dry the compost. The ideal composting temperature is 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In traditional composting, this heat results in lost energy. With the help of Brian Jerose from Agrilab Technologies, the farm has been able to harness that energy by capturing the hot air to dry out the compost.

Composting has been a great way for farmers like the Catlin Farmstead to diversify their income while closing the loop within the energy and nutrient cycle. Funding for this project was composed of three grants: the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) Agricultural Energy Grant, a grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and the USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The Center for EcoTechnology provided MDAR and REAP grant writing assistance. We wanted to say a big thank you to the Catlin family for sharing your story and farm with us!