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“I am proud people working in agriculture were designated as front-line workers, vital to the day-to-day operations of everyone else,” Mary said. “Vaccines provide protection from pressures the body has yet to know, so they are part of good animal husbandry for our herd. The Covid-19 vaccines are important for good ‘human husbandry’!”

As for the supply chain interruptions in the spring of 2020, Mary and Chris relied on collaborative relationships with other members of the food chain to reduce negative impacts on their dairy farm.

“We’ve always believed in strategic alliances,” Mary explained, noting that their involvement with and contribution to the agricultural marketing cooperative Dairy Farmers of America has been a conduit for a few such strategic alliances, including Fuel Up to Play 60, Feeding America, and DFA Care—all of which perform important outreach for their business sustainability. In addition to being active at the national level, Mary noted that they also invest their time and energy in their local community, including with the sheriff’s department and schools.

Building strong relationships is a hallmark for the sustainability of Kraft Family Dairies, and as the fourth generation on the farm, no relationship has been more important to cultivate for Mary and Chris than their relationship with family. Getting to see “all of the highs and the lows” on the farm is an experience that helps build character, moral integrity, comradery and solidarity in farm kids, Mary says, and she believes her children feel the same way. Chris and Mary’s son is currently working alongside them as the fifth generation on their family farm. And their daughter is employed at an agricultural company that performs data collection.

Mary says the secret to running a farm is that it’s all about the people. “People are the key to agriculture,” she said, adding that she takes pride in being a “mom and pop operation.” For her and her family, managing a successful farm has nothing to do with taking a corporate mindset. The most important aspect to understand is the “synergy between the technology and people and consumers.” The collaboration with USFRA is one of the many ways in which the Krafts and farmers all across the country are making their voices heard by people everywhere.

Feeding Byproducts to Cows?

What does it mean for the Kraft family to feed byproducts to their cows? Many dairies reuse byproducts from harvesting. At Kraft Family Dairies, Mary says their Ph.D. nutritionist builds nutritious rations from many post-process items that would otherwise end up as disposed waste, including spent brewers grain from making beer, and hulls from soybeans. He also uses seed left over from making cloth (cotton) — “a hard, unusable seed that can be soaked in a cow’s first stomach, chewed as ‘cud,’ and turned into a nugget of protein and energy,” Mary says.

As Mary explains, “A cow, with her unique ruminant digestive system, has four stomachs to harvest all of these post-production byproducts. Some would call them ‘waste.’ I don’t! Waste, like a weed, is just a flower out of place; a waste item is simply a nutrient that hasn’t yet found its place to contribute.”

Lagoons on Dairy Farms

Like all concentrated animal production systems in the United States, Mary explains, Kraft Family Dairies are “required to retain all the water on the operation, including rainfall.” These retention systems are called lagoons. Kraft Family Dairies employed an outside firm to build their lagoons, which meet stringent federal environmental regulations. The firm is also retained to practice quality control, so that the lagoons maintain environmental integrity. The lagoons are lined with fabric or clay, which prevents unwanted nutrients or contaminants from leaching into the groundwater.

When farm ground is ready for irrigation, the Krafts and their employees apply a certain amount of water to the ground of their farm and neighboring farms, where nutrients are ready to be used by a growing, harvestable crop. “This is part of responsible stewardship that wastes nothing, looks out for the planet, people and our livestock,” Mary says. “Our lagoons grow red algae, which digests the solids and breaks both them and the odors down.”

Robert Crawford is a former USFRA partnership development volunteer and a student at the University of Notre Dame majoring in architecture and minoring in sustainability. USFRA consultant Krista de Groot also contributed to this story. 

This content was originally published here.