Every year we get questions about what happens to the Butter Sculpture once the New York State Fair is over. Don’t worry, the butter is put to good use! Dairy farmers are the original environmentalists and try not to let anything go to waste. Not even butter.

Not Suitable for Consumption

It’s important to remember that the butter used in the sculpture might look creamy and delicious, but you definitely don’t want to eat it! The butter is out of specification for retail sale for a variety of reasons, so we have sculptors give it a second life by shaping it into a beautiful piece of art that is one of the highlights of the fair and that thousands of people enjoy every year.

Deconstructing the Sculpture

The process of designing and planning the butter sculpture starts months before the fair kicks off. Then, it takes about 10 days and the work of two artists to make it a reality. While it takes months to bring the vision to life, it takes only two hours to dismantle the entire thing! A team from Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners work to scrape all the butter off from the underlying structure, bit by bit, to make sure that as much butter as possible is recycled.

Bringing Butter Back to the Farm

Once the sculpture is deconstructed, the butter begins its next journey to be recycled into renewable energy at a local dairy farm.

2023 will be the 8th consecutive year that the butter from the New York State Fair butter sculpture has gone to Noblehurst Farms in Pavilion, New York, to be recycled.  Noblehurst Farms is one of the farm families of Craigs Creamery.

In previous years,  Chris Noble of Noblehurst Farms has loaded the 800 pounds of butter onto his truck to take back to his family farm’s digester.

Converted into Energy

Within 24 hours of arriving on the farm, the butter gets mixed with other inedible food waste including donations from local supermarkets and restaurants as well as cow manure. The combined waste is then consumed by the farm’s digester, and microbes in the anaerobic tank eat the butter and generate methane gas which is run through an internal combustion engine to generate electricity.

Farm employees monitor computers that record the digester’s kilowatt information throughout the process. The energy that is created is then sent back to the electrical grid, providing enough watts to run the farm’s operations and power more than 300 homes.

You can learn more about Chris Noble and his seven-generation family dairy farm in our This American Dairy Farmer episode below, called ‘From Waste to Watts’.

Make sure to stop by the Dairy Building at this year’s New York State Fair to see the latest butter sculpture!