Diversification the secret behind Bar-Way Farm’s century of success

DEERFIELD — Steven Melnik used horses when he started his farm in 1919.

A century later, his great-grandson can use his smartphone to turn on the pumps at a 750,000-gallon methane digester that makes bedding for dairy cows, as well as electricity, fertilizer and heat.

“I think something like that … my great-grandfather would be the most mystified at,” Peter Melnik said last week at Bar-Way Farm. “If you think about the evolution, he was probably here when electricity started and now not only is there electricity, but we’re making electricity from the waste. He’d probably be amazed.”

The past 100 years have featured many changes at the family farm, which held a large party last month to celebrate a century of innovation and diversification. Three generations of Melniks were joined by friends, family, neighbors, state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and state Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux for hours of food, fun and music. Peter Melnik said the celebration lasted from roughly 6 p.m. to midnight.

“The cows liked the music,” he quipped last week.

Blais, a Democrat representing the 19 communities of the 1st Franklin District, said the event was all about family, and Peter Melnik’s touching remarks “really brought home how much the valley and its people have meant to” the Melniks.

“There are lots of memories for people at that farm,” she said.

Peter Melnik, who co-owns Bar-Way with his father, Steve, said his great-grandfather bought 20 acres of land in 1919 and started the farm as a tobacco- and onion-growing operation. The farm, which discontinued those crops in the 1960s, has since grown to about 750 acres. He said he has 350 milk cows, and 250 young stock. Cows can be milked starting at 2 years old.

Bar-Way also grows and sells cattle feed to five other dairy farmers, grows 30 acres of butternut squash, and contract-grows 15 acres of hemp for Heritage Hemp in Northampton.

“We’ve always done different things,” Peter Melnik said. “The only way you can survive 100 years is to change and adapt to whatever the markets are. As the world changes, you’ve got to change.”

The digester was another way to diversify and gain a revenue stream using “every aspect of the dairy cow.”

Cow manure and organic food waste go into the digester, where microbes digest it to produce methane that is burned to generate renewable energy. This means Bar-Way has no electric bill, and it even sells electricity back to Eversource. The waste is separated into liquid and solids — the liquid is spread on the farm’s fields and the solids go into a pile to be used for bedding.

“It’s been great. It’s been a good diversification and we’ve benefited greatly from having this here,” Peter Melnik said. “The best part is, whenever you invest a lot of money in a project like this, you hope that it will perform as well as (expected). It’s been as good as we had planned.”

The 1-megawatt digester cost about $8 million and Vanguard Renewables, the farm’s partner, secured the funding for it. Planning for the project started in 2012 and it was completed in 2017.

“The thing we like about the cows is that it supplies us with our own source of fertilizer, organic fertilizer. And it helps us rotate our crops and take care of our land better,” Peter Melnik said. “So, we really think that the cows are a big part of the past and the future.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

Author: Going Green

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