Student’s goal: to build model of sustainability for dairies
A Ph.D. student at the University of Washington plans to tackle issues in sustainable dairy farming, and will do so with help from a Seattle-based nonprofit.
Heather Fowler, a doctoral student in the School of Public Health, was awarded the Bullitt Foundation’s Environmental Fellowship Award, a $100,000 prize given to one graduate student.
Fowler works in the UW’s Center for One Health Research, which approaches health issues from the standpoints of humans, animals and the environment. Such an approach, she said, can help – particularly an industry like dairy agriculture.
“My goal is to create a One Health model for sustainable agriculture in Washington that could be a model for other regions, as well,” she said. “My hope is that this can help educate consumers about where their food is coming from and the health implications of how we produce the food.”
According to the Department of Agriculture, milk is the No. 2 agricultural commodity in Washington state, where there are over 400 dairy farms. These include small- and large-scale operations.
Fowler, a licensed veterinarian, plans to assess conventional and organic dairy practices, interviewing farmers, veterinarians, consumers, environmental conservationists and other stakeholders to understand their concerns and get their ideas for the future of dairies. Her research will also include investigating issues that affect the health and safety of animal-care workers.
The Bullitt Foundation protects and restores the environment in the Pacific Northwest.
“We’ve not had anyone before who dealt with this food-agriculture nexus,” said Denis Hayes, the foundation’s president. He shares Fowler’s interest in cows and dairies, having co-authored a book on the subject.
Concentrated animal-feeding operations, in which large numbers of animals such as dairy cows are kept in one location, have grown tremendously across the nation. It makes production cheaper and more efficient, but it also has increased concerns about the animals' welfare and the environmental impact of large volumes of manure waste.