Recently Amy Donovan, Program Director of the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District (FCSWMD), invited me to a Compost Tour at the Academy of Early Learning where three, four and five year old children begin their academic studies. The Compost Tour began with Donovan’s power point presentation about recycling. I was impressed by the children’s attentive engagement.
The children were familiar with the idea of recycling. They were already using the recycling system Donovan had set up in the school cafeteria. Instead of just tossing any lunch remains into a garbage can to be hauled away to the dump, these young children learned to throw non-compostable items in a trash bin, compostables like lunch remnants and the paper napkins and trays that held their lunch went into another bin, while a large bucket and colander arrangement allowed children to get rid of any leftover milk or soup. A small red bin was on each lunch table ready to accept non-compostable plastic forks and spoons. All the cafeteria recycling will be towed off to Martin’s Compost Farm at the end of every week.
There are recycling refinements that were explained in the power point presentation. The children were all eager to show that they knew the difference between items that could go into a compost bin, and those that could not. They were also beginning to learn that worms could make compost, too. There are two classroom worm bins that rotate between classrooms for periods of time. Worms turn some of the classroom snacks and paper napkins into worm castings and compost. The children can marvel at the mystery of paper napkins turning into ‘dirt.’
After the presentation Donovan took the children outside to see the new garden compost bin. No food scraps go into this, mostly just leaves and grass clippings. This circular bin is quite a bit larger than the bins we have in our backyards. There is no lid to screw on. Instead there is a large black lid that strongly resembles an upside down funnel. This fits inside the bin itself. Donovan explained this is another way of making compost. At the end of this school year, each Greenfield Public School will have an on-site garden compost bin, for composting the school’s garden and yard waste, and the occasional snack waste.
The final leg of the tour took us behind the school, outside the cafeteria where we peeked into the big dumpster where cafeteria recycling bags are dumped. Every month Tripple T Trucking brings five tons of composting food and paper waste from the six Greenfield schools to Martin’s Farm.
These activities were started by Amy Donovan of the FCSWMD as part of the 3 year, $30,000 Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) “School Recycling Assistance grant. The grant funded the programs, and the equipment and signage to make the programs successful. The grant ends on June 30, but Donovan said these composting activities will continue.
The $30,000 grant made it possible to give all 6 Greenfield schools a successful cafeteria and kitchen compost program, and each of these schools also has at least one active classroom worm compost bin. Over the past 18 years fourteen other schools in the county have been installing cafeteria composting programs and classroom vermicomposting programs. Over the three years of the grant cafeteria and kitchen waste has been reduced by 75 – 80% in each school.
“We have reached a major milestone,” she said. “The vast majority of public schools in Franklin County, 25 of them, now compost food and paper waste from cafeterias and kitchens! There are also 8 schools that separate food waste for pig or chicken farmers. “Massachusetts leads the nation in efforts to protect our climate and reduce emissions, and Franklin County leads the state in school, transfer station, and business composting!” Donovan said.
As I learned about the composting program, I also learned about the way The Green Team, an environmental club, also sponsored by the MassDEP provides resources like posters, lesson plans, and activities for teachers to use to teach waste reduction, recycling, composting as well as other environmental issues in the classroom. The children and classes can even win prizes for their projects.
I think it is exciting that these environmental projects give children a chance to learn about math and science and writing. There are so many things to count, natural processes to explore, and to write about. Meeting the Curriculum Guidelines does not have to be limited to textbook lessons. They will discover the need for these skills when they have real world problems to solve.
It was wonderful to see that the pre-schoolers at the Early Learning Academy are not only learning to use their manners, to take turns, and be considerate with their classmates, but to be attentive, to look and observe, and to think about the world around them.
Between the Rows June 2, 2018