Udderly intriguing: doc highlights cow dung as renewable energy

by Dillon Riley / Beacon Staff • September 18, 2013

2012 Emerson grad Allison Gillette screened her documentary at her alma mater Tuesday night
2012 Emerson grad Allison Gillette screened her documentary at her alma mater Tuesday night

Picture a barn filled with over 1,300 cows. Now, picture all the dung generated from said cows; pretty gross, right? As 2012 Emerson graduate Allison Gillette proved with her latest film, Cow Power: The Movie, some farmers are putting that poop to good use. Set in her native Vermont, Cow Power takes an extended look at the power of cow manure as a renewable energy source for local area farmers. 

 As told by farmers using the technology—called Cow Power—as well as other area businesses benefitting from the clean energy source, the film made a compelling argument for its usage. Cow Power, the film says, saves farmers an average of upwards of $150,000 a year, while reducing the carbon footprint of said farms by 20 percent. While other renewable energy sources like wind and solar power clock in at 30 and 20 percent respectively, the Cow Power process is highly potent at 75 percent efficiency. Also, if used on a large scale, Cow Power could support up to 10 percent of the country’s energy needs, according to the film.

In between financial figures and scientific examinations on the process lies the real story of Cow Power: the farms using it. The Audet family of Blue Spruce farm in Britport, Vt. was central to the story in particular, as shots of their farm going through the Cow Power process served as the film’s backdrop. Giant machines called digesters were shown collecting the cow poop as members of the family stressed the capabilities of Cow Power. 

Before Cow Power was screened, a short cinéma vérité piece by Kori Feener, a 2013 Emerson graduate, also aired. Centered around the work done on a small vegetable farm by an elderly woman in her 90s, Feener’s film was set a little closer to home by way of Haverhill, Mass.

 After both films wrapped, a short Q&A was held, and Gillette spoke further on what went into making Cow Power,  and her plans for distributing it. 

 “I have two plans really,” said Gillette in response to a question. “I want to set up screenings for people already pro-Cow Power and have them bring in politicians and friends, and I want to set up a condensed version of the film to show at New England area schools as a sort of education tool.” 

Because the film had a relatively low budget of under $50,000, $3,000 of which was won from a pitch contest, Gillette encouraged those in the audience to support both the initiative and her work through promotion of her film. She said her plan is to help set up screenings by sending out DVD copies of the documentary on the promise that the copies will be returned.   

Cow Power aside, at the heart of the film, said Gillette, was a desire to expose the sorts of projects that are synonymous with Vermont.

 “I’m a long time Vermont resident, and the reason I got into media was to help document what goes on in my state. Cow Power seemed like a perfect example of those types of grassroots companies.” 

 After finishing the film, her target audience became pretty clear.

 “It’s for the farmers really,” said Gillette in response to another question. “It’s a way to promote the innovative work they’re doing.”