By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Apr 24, 2008 at 5:15 AM

If things look a little greener around here this April, there's a good reason. Our editorial staff is busy expanding the ideals of Earth Day into a month-long celebration of energy conservation, alternative transportation, recycling tips and about a million ways you can be a better friend to the planet. Welcome to Green Month, Milwaukee.

Operating a successful dairy farm in America's Dairyland may not seem newsworthy to many Wisconsinites, but innovators tend to get noticed.

Last year the Crave Brothers -- Charles, George, Thomas and Mark -- installed an anaerobic digestion system that generates electricity from the farm's 750 Holsteins' organic waste.

That's right; the cows' manure produces enough energy to not only power the entire Waterloo farm, but also the neighboring cheese plant, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, and 20 area homes. The Craves' is only one of a few farms in Wisconsin utilizing this renewable source of clean and sustainable energy.

The process is simple. Anaerobic digestion helps microorganisms biologically break down organic waste to produce mostly methane gas, which is then burned like natural gas to create energy.

So far it's had a tremendous impact on the farm's productivity and carbon footprint.

"The main advantages for the farm is for the nutrient management of the manure, meaning that the manure is recycled to the fields as a higher quality fertilizer," says Debbie Crave, wife of George and Farmstead Cheese's vice president.

"There is also reduced odor, and the recycled manure waste fibers make an excellent bedding for the cows. Because we recycle the manure back to the land, we do not need to purchase outside commercial fertilizers."

The Anaerobic digestion is owned and operated by Clear Horizons, a Milwaukee-based company that specializes in organic waste management solutions and biogas energy systems. The digester not only manages the manure, but it also produces usable byproducts, such as liquids used for natural fertilizer and solids used in organic potting mixes.

The new system is also attractive for members of the state's Slow Food chapters looking to support local farmers and celebrate Wisconsin's tastes and traditions. The Craves grow soybeans, corn and alfalfa to feed their herd, which then produces about 3,300 gallons of milk per year.

The milk is then piped across the road to the cheese factory where the cheesemakers craft wheels and wedges of mascarpone, mozzarella and two of their own European-style creations. In Milwaukee, the Farmstead Classic Cheeses are available at Sendik's, Sentry Foods on Oakland Avenue and V Richards.

"We've always been environmentally conscious because this is our land, we own it, we live here, we want it to be here for future generations," says Crave.

"Our children are in 4-H and FFA, they work at the farm and learn to be responsible stewards of the land and animals as well. We are responsible, sustainable businesses by caring not only for the land and animals but also our employees and the local community."

Crave says the dairy donates money and cheese to local schools and programs. The Craves plan to expand their farm in the future, thereby expanding the organic waste energy source.

"We are always looking for positive ways to continue to grow our farm and cheese factory into successful, responsible businesses to offer opportunities for future generations."

The farm does tours by appointment only. See the Web site for details. 

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”