On a recent trip to Wisconsin, we had the pleasure of visiting Cedar Grove Cheese, a small, family-owned cheese factory that's committed to the environment, from its organic, rBGH- and GMO-free products to its responsible packaging and water practices. Right outside the building where the cheese is made stands a greenhouse, but it's not just any greenhouse – it's a Living Machine. We've written about Living Machine systems in the past, so it was fascinating to see one in person, and this is the first of its kind in a cheese factory. Cheesemaking is a water-intensive process, and the Living Machine processes about 8,000 gallons a day, cleaning the wastewater using oxygen rather than chemicals. This water is ultimately returned to the local Honey Creek or used for irrigation.
Comprised of ten 2,600-gallon tanks, the Living Machine at Cedar Grove is a working ecosystem that mimics the processes of natural wetlands. The first two tanks are closed aerobic tanks, where microbes eat everything in the wastewater. Then, the water moves to open aerobic tanks with tropical plants like taro, papyrus, and ginger. Experimenting with edibles, the factory is also growing a grape vine and tomato plants.
The water then moves to a clarifier that separates clear water from sludge, which is either returned to the first tank or dried and used as fertilizer. Finally, the water moves through filters where algae and microbe colonies further clean the water. Other living creatures in the system include fish, frogs, snails, and leeches. The entire process takes about three or four days. Cheesemaker Robert Wills told us that one of the other benefits of the Living Machine has been the change in attitude among Cedar Grove's employees, who are now more conscious of the fact that "what goes down the drain matters."
We had a great time visiting the Living Machine, as well as tasting Cedar Grove's fine cheeses, and encourage anyone to go visit if they find themselves near Plain, Wisconsin!
• Learn more: Cedar Grove Cheese
(Image: Emily Ho)