Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
John and Jen Kimmich, right, owners of the Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, speak at a news conference at their cannery Wednesday with Rep. Peter Welch, left, and Waitsfield farmer Hadley Gaylord.
WATERBURY — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch is fighting to preserve a tradition among brewers and farmers in America that dates back centuries.
Every week, John and Jen Kimmich, co-owners of the Alchemist Brewery, go through 28,000 pounds of grain to produce their line of beers, including the much-lauded Heady Topper.
The Kimmichs have an agreement with Hadley Gaylord — owner of Gaylord Farm in Waitsfield — to take the spent grain, which he feeds to his approximately 150 cows and 100 pigs. The arrangement is mutually beneficial; the Kimmichs don’t have to pay to dispose of the spent grain, and Gaylord receives free feed at a time when it costs $400 to $500 a ton.
That arrangement is under threat by proposed regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which would halt the practice and require the Kimmichs to dry and package the spent grain and dispose of it in a landfill.
Welch, who learned of the issue after a chance visit to the brewery several months ago, has taken steps to prevent the new rules from going into effect.
“The FDA has come up with a pretty crackpot idea. It’s a solution in search of a problem,” Welch said. “This is something we’ve been doing since George and Martha Washington, literally.”
According to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association — whose mission is to preserve, restore and manage the estate — in 1797, George Washington began brewing whiskey, and he would feed the spent grain to his pigs.
“If it was good enough for George and Martha Washington, then why isn’t it good enough for John and Jen Kimmich?” Welch asked.
In Vermont, the symbiotic relationship between brewers and farmers dates back at least 30 years, said John Kimmich.
“This is a relationship that was established back in the 1980s when our first breweries opened up here in Vermont: Catamount and the Vermont Pub and Brewery,” he said. “It’s a long-standing tradition of a very environmental way to deal with this byproduct of the brewing process.”
At a news conference Wednesday with Welch and the Kimmichs, Gaylord discussed the positive response he gets from his cattle and pigs when he feeds them the spent grain.
“They come running for this stuff,” Gaylord said. “It’s a very clean product. There’s no dirtiness or nastiness to it. When we feed it to the cattle, literally, it must be candy to them.”
In addition to being tasty, it is beneficial to his livestock, he said.
“They have better body condition throughout the winter, so they can deal with the weather they are faced with on a daily basis,” Gaylord said.
Welch is taking a couple of approaches as he tries to preserve the relationship between brewers and farmers. First, he is circulating a letter urging the FDA to exempt breweries and distilleries from the rules. The letter currently has the signatures of 51 of his House colleagues.
Second, Welch has proposed legislation that would make the exemption law.
John Kimmich spoke of how the chance visit months ago led to a possible fix to a problem that doesn’t exist.
“It’s refreshing to see such instant democracy happen in such a great state,” John Kimmich said.
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