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Home > About > Agricultural Adventurers > Agricultural Adventurers Award Recipients > 2021 Matt & Ben Freund

2021 Matt & Ben Freund


Farmers, gardeners and entrepreneurs, Matt and Ben Freund, of Freund’s Farm in East Canaan, Conn., received Eastern States Exposition’s 2021 New England Fellowship of Agricultural Adventurers award.

The award was presented on Connecticut Day, Sept. 22, at The Big E.

The Freund brothers have been lifelong innovators and leaders in sustainability and responsible environmental stewardship. This ultimately led them to their ultimate adventure - CowPots: The Pots you plant!

Appearing to be just another working dairy farm with an inviting retail market, Freund’s Farm Market & Bakery, along Connecticut’s Route 44, the Freund Farm is much more.

In the 1990's, Matt and Ben were pioneers in building a methane digester on their farm to "process" dairy manure into three useful components:

  • Liquid nutrients which are applied to crop land, thereby replacing the need for commercial fertilizer and applying the nutrient more efficiently
  • Methane gas which is then burned as a biogas, offsetting the farm’s use of fossil fuels
  • Fibrous solids which are used as bedding in their dairy barn and eventually used as the feedstock to manufacture their value added products.

This was cutting edge on a dairy farm. They became intrigued by the opportunity of a value-added product using the fibrous solids produced by the digester which inspired CowPots – bio-degradable pots and custom products made from manure. CowPots would replace some of the millions of plastic pots used to grow and market plants for consumers’ gardens.

After much trial and error, humorous moments (notably Matt using a toaster oven to cook experimental batches of CowPots!), and several years of persistence, CowPots earned at least one US Patent in the process and introduced their innovative product to the market about 16 years ago.

CowPots have superior growing performance as plant and pot are inserted into the soil as one, avoiding root shock. And the big plus - much reduced solid waste as there are no leftover plastic pots to dispose of. The consumer, the environment and the plant all win!

Ben and Matt have been leaders in working cooperatively with like-minded producers including being charter members of the Canaan Valley Agricultural Cooperative, Inc., a manure management cooperative; long time members of Agri-Mark/Cabot Cooperative; and life-long members of Farm Credit East, ACA.

Today, the brothers are working to transition their businesses to the next generation of Freunds.

As Matt and Theresa and Ben and Debbie’s adult kids started to return to the family business in the 2000s, it became apparent that they needed to reinvest in the dairy farm. About five years ago, Matt and Ben were among the early adopters of robotic milkers here in New England.

The farm community has greatly benefited from the Freund’s innovation and the fantastic message that they make to the nonfarm community. They have walked the walk of farming sustainability and environmental protection. Their story has been frequently told in state and national media. Freund Farm is a poster child for how the American consumer benefits from our nation's family farmers: plentiful, nutritious, high quality food {think Cabot cheese):

  • A green alternative for the purchase of bedding plants to beautify homes and public spaces (CowPots)
  • Stewardship of open space and watershed (branch of the Housatonic flowing just yards from the farmstead)
  • Economic engine for many nonfarm jobs serving their farm and marketing their products
  • And family farmers who are leaders in sustaining their local community.

East Canaan, a small rural community, has benefited from the Freund's success in a variety of ways including real estate tax revenues, preservation of open space, employment opportunities and the farm market and bakery operated by Theresa, Matt’s wife. Most of all, by building sustainable, progressive farm businesses, the next generation of Freunds have returned home to sustain this family farm into the future.

Ben and Matt work together with other farmers with extensive participation and leadership in the cooperatives and organizations vital to their business.

  • Both have been active in Agri-Mark/Cabot, the largest marketer of milk in New England and famous for its Cabot cheeses and other products. Matt serves on its Sustainable Farms Committee.
  • Both have been active in Connecticut Farm Bureau, including the development of the Connecticut Dairy Sustainability Program.
  • Ben serves on the Connecticut Farmland Preservation Advisory Board.
  • Matt has traveled the country appearing on television and at sustainability conferences talking about their products.
  • Matt has also been active in local town government, including serving as Chair of the municipal wetlands commission.
  • Matt was a member of the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Advisory Council.
  • Ben served as an elected director of Farm Credit East from 2001 to 2013, including a stint as Vice Chair of that Board.
  • In 2013 Ben was elected to the Board of CoBank, ACB, the largest Farm Credit entity in our nation serving cooperatives and regional Farm Credit associations. He was also appointed by CoBank as a director on the Federal Farm Credit Banks Funding Corporation Board, which organization has responsibility for acquiring funding from Wall Street to support the lending operations of the Farm Credit System.

Matt and Ben Freund have been recognized in numerous ways over the years, always projecting farmers as innovative, hard-working and committed to sustainability.

The Fellowship of Agricultural Adventurers has honored outstanding leaders in New England agriculture since 1953. A special committee, appointed by the trustees of Eastern States Exposition, selects its annual fellow on the basis of innovation, pioneering and lifetime dedication to the betterment of agriculture.

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