Monroe dairy farmer Jim Werkhoven will do the same thing on the farm he operates with his brother, Andy. But today won't be much different from any other.
"I'm a farmer, so every day is kind of Earth Day," he said earlier this week.
Farming is probably the original green job, but it's getting greener all the time as stricter regulations and good business sense require that farmers reuse and recycle everything they can, minimize waste, and keep a closer watch on their effects on the environment.
"We work the dirt, we grow crops, and we try to have a good business," Werkhoven said. "It's a big circle, and it all works together."
The Werkhovens have about 1,000 dairy cows and farm about 800 acres along the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers, producing about 60 percent of the feed needed by the herd.
The cow barns are flushed several times daily with water that's filtered and reused in a closed system. The milk cows bed down on sand that's cleaned and reused time and time again.
The cows' waste either becomes fertilizer or it goes into a digester that turns the manure into methane gas used to power generators that create electricity that goes into the Snohomish County Public Utility District's power grid.
The leftovers are baked in the process and wind up as fertilizer.
Werkhoven said the primary motivation for starting the digester, a $3.5 million investment, was to reduce the odor from the large dairy herd.
"We're in a more densely populated area than most dairies, and we're trying to reduce the odor as much as we can," Werkhoven said, adding that he lives there, too.
The digester also uses food waste that used to go into landfills, for which the Werkhovens are paid a tipping fee.
"We take a lot of the gunky stuff in life that no one wants to think about," he said.
The money the receive for the electricity barely covers the cost, but Werkhoven said the family is still trying to get it to work efficiently.
"It's not all roses, but it's worked out OK," he said of the digester. "I'd hate to try to make a living out it."
He added that the farm has to burn off a lot of excess methane and may need another generator to create additional electricity.
"It's part of a more and more complex business model," he said of the farm's electricity operation.
The farm also is working harder than ever to minimize nutrient runoff to help keep the rivers clean. Werkhoven said he and his brother partner with the Tulalip Tribes in a Northwest Chinook Recovery Project to bring back salmon.
He said he was worried at first that too many restrictions would hurt the farm, but that it's been a good partnership.
"They have supplied a lot of brainpower to work with," he said.
Werkhoven said his part of the deal mostly amounts to watching what's put on the land and trying to keep it from winding up in the rivers.
"We try and match up the nutrients with the crops and have them pretty much used up," Werkhoven said,
Part of that process involves injecting fertilizer into the soil, rather than just spraying it over the land, to keep it from washing into the river.
Werkhoven said he thinks most farmers are concerned about their land and the environment. "I don't think what we're doing is particularly unique," he said. "It's a precious resource and you should just take care of it."
He said he thinks agriculture and wildlife can coexist "very nicely" and that as a second-generation farmer with the third generation well on its way, he takes a long-term view.
"You can't think about things for a year or even just one lifetime in this business," he said.
Earth Day events
The Snohomish County PUD is celebrating Earth Day today with a free event featuring green power, conservation and environmental stewardship. People can trade in incandescent light bulbs, buy locally grown plants and learn low- or no-cost energy conservation tips.
The event is planned for 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at PUD headquarters, 2320 California St., Everett.
For more information go to www.snopud.com or call 425-783-1000.
For other Earth Day activities, see our story here.
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