Lessons from the Last Surviving San Diego Dairy
“My family has always been in the dairy business. It’s a…different sort of business,” laughs Frank Konyn of Frank Konyn Dairy.
Established in 1962 by his father, Konyn’s 250-acre dairy farm is nestled on the San Pasqual Valley floor 35 miles northeast of downtown San Diego. With over 800 cows, he estimates his monthly feed bill to be over a quarter of a million dollars. As land costs increased alongside agricultural regulations, Konyn realized that in order to survive, he’d have to diversify.
“In California, you’ll find the same thing among most dairymen. It’s not a standalone business. Throughout the state, dairy farmers that are making money are diversified: They grow almonds, walnuts, own real estate, maybe they do hay sales, etcetera. But for a standalone dairyman to survive is proving to be very difficult,” he explains.
Even on farms, opportunities to turn wasteful liabilities into profitable assets are hard to come by, but as Konyn searched for a profitable new venture, he realized he was sitting on a veritable gold mine—or more accurately, a brown one.
A dairy cow can eat over 100 pounds of food in a day and generates over six yards of manure per year.
Cow manure happens to be very rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, making it a perfect source for mixing rich compost for growing crops or flowers.
In 2007, Konyn launched the dairy’s sister company San Pasqual Valley Soils to combine landscape trimmings with manure in order to provide greenhouse gas-reducing compost available for sale.
It remains one of the only approved organic-use composting sites in the county.
Rick Sarver, vice president of sales and operations at San Pasqual Valley Soils, describes some of the unique challenges they face as unfortunate.
“Composting is a heavily regulated industry, and we’ve spent a lot of money on permitting, and spend a substantial amount annually on regulatory compliance. And the rules are getting more stringent. This dynamic makes it hard to make ends meet. Since composting and use of the end product actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions, we think the regulations should take that into account and soften up on activities that are moving our environmental goals in the right direction.”
Despite these roadblocks, their compost ships to everyone from local landscapers to the Carlsbad flower fields and even California State University, San Marcos for use on the baseball field. Konyn also uses it on-site to help his alfalfa fields grow, generating an additional feed source for his cows in order to reduce his monthly expenses.
The symbiotic benefits were immediate. “The compost site helps the dairy survive, and consumers get the benefit of microbially rich soil amendments as well as locally produced milk,” says Sarver.
As the businesses grew, costs for transporting materials across the county grew right along with it. Thus, the third leg of the cooperation “organically” emerged in the form of KD Farms Trucking, Inc.
“The trucking company started out as a pickup truck with a dump trailer. Now, we have a fleet of eight trucks,” says Konyn.
Today, the trucks deliver their compost all over the region, but Konyn saw a greater opportunity.
With no shortage of local beer being brewed in San Diego, KD Farms Trucking, Inc. is now one of the biggest users and transporters of spent grain from local breweries. Konyn estimates they’ve grown from picking up two to three tons of grains at a time to over 250 tons per week (50 tons alone come from Karl Strauss).
“[We] collect more than 1,500 tons per month of food waste, including spent brewery grains, bakery products, and pressed fruits and vegetables from juice manufacturers. All of these materials are diverted from landfills and converted into feed for the cows,” says Konyn.
Sarver sees the relationship between the companies as “a win-win, but not without its costs, hard work and diligence to bring to fruition,” and he urges those interested in establishing the same type of dynamic to follow the proper channels in order for small operations to continue delivering consumer benefits.
When it comes to benefits, Konyn acknowledges that CAFO’s (confined animal feeding operations) concern animal welfare advocates, vegans, and environmentalists, but contends that diversifying his dairy operation enables him to produce milk while recycling food waste into animal feed plus producing soil-building compost.
“We’re taking refuse from urban centers and converting it into feed for our animals. Those animals in turn create high protein, human consumable foods. By co-composting the manure with landscape trimmings, we create soil building products. How can you create a more sustainable closed loop cycle than that?”
Story used by permission with standard republication credit to the initial original publication in Edible San Diego Magazine, Winter 2019, Issue 51 and linked back to the website/original article by Beth Demmon a freelance food + drink writer who especially enjoys writing about (and drinking) local craft beer. She’s currently studying to become a certified Beer Judge and can be found at @thedelightedbite on Instagram or her portfolio on Contently.