What originally began as a recycling initiative to decrease the school’s footprint led Bonny Eagle Middle School to develop a school wide composting project that changed the way they dispose of waste, teach and utilize their school garden and greenhouse.
The project has benefited from several grants, expert advice, attending a training program and lots of dedication from members of the school community.
- Two recycling grants from ecomaine were used to promote, educate, and actively involve the school staff and students in developing working recycling systems.
- They received advice from other school gardens who had already developed successful composting programs. For example, a few trips to Massabesic Middle School to talk with David Pope about their composting system.
- Meeting with Mark King from the Maine Department of Environmental Education (MEEA) gave them valuable tips, helped them address concerns and enabled their composting project to benefit from their experience.
- They attended a two day training program at the University of Maine 4-H Camp at Bryant Pond where they learned about their global impact as well as living an active lifestyle in the great outdoors.
- Additional funding from a Maine Agriculture in the Classroom (MAITC) grant helped them to develop a more efficient method of composting by turning the food waste generated from 850 students into fertile soil for plantings in their greenhouse.
With a well-designed composting system using signage, buckets and garbage cans placed throughout the cafeteria and halls, students can now easily turn their food waste into fertile soil for plantings in a framed composting site next to their greenhouse. Students at the school empty the recycling and composting bins daily.
While they originally planned to use a pile or loaf method of composting, Mark King from MEEA advised them to start small with composters made from lobster trap wire. A donation of lobster trap wire from Brooks Trap Mill got them started and they created three composters. Although these have been sufficient to handle the compost they produce from the cafeteria so far, they predict they will need to expand with more composters soon and plan to reassess their current systems on a regular basis as the project grows. They have experienced a few problems such as pests as well as how to encapsulate cafeteria refuse with the manure effectively but continue to research and solicit expert advice to solve problems and keep the project moving forward.
A second phase of the composting project is the current overhaul of their greenhouse. When their STEM pathway became involved in the day to day care of the compost, they also began looking at the efficacy of the greenhouse. Students and staff are currently redesigning and rebuilding the planting area of the greenhouse for larger scale plant production while outside the greenhouse, they have added raised beds. In the future they plan to support all of their own plant production with their own compost rather than purchasing compost. Donations of manure from nearby Hearts and Horses Riding Center in Buxton also helps to keep their composters fueled. Another area of potential savings is the possibility of gasification to see if they can funnel the heated methane gas from the compost into supplementing the heat of their greenhouse to save on purchasing propane.
Although the pandemic has temporarily affected some of the activities, the large greenhouse is normally where classes, after-school clubs, and specialized instruction groups reap the benefits of agricultural education. Here are a few examples of how the greenhouse is used:
- The school Garden Club meets weekly to cook with fresh ingredients and helps to maintain the greenhouse. Students grow vegetables for use by the cafeteria.
- Special education student groups grow and sell seedlings and leafy greens to support further programming.
- Classes are utilizing the space to provide educational opportunities to bring agricultural studies into the classrooms.
- Students monitor compost temperatures to maximize healthy decomposition and study the microorganisms that make the composting process possible.
- Students weigh daily food refuse, monitor school waste reduction, and provide empirical evidence by observation and documentation of patterns to inform decisions going forward for the lunch program, for improved waste management, and for educational offerings.
Schools in the beginning stages of their composting and gardening planning might benefit from Bonny Eagle Middle School’s experience with the following suggestions:
- Enlist your stakeholders and talk openly about hurdles and possible roadblocks to the success of a composting and garden program.
- Be prepared to expend a lot of time and energy educating everyone.
- Be patient because it takes time to change old habits and establish new ones.
Bonny Eagle Middle School has accomplished a great deal by decreasing their footprint with composting school waste, learning to manage the school garden and greenhouse plus provide real life examples for learning in the classroom. The school composting project is well on its way! Recently a group of high school students, noticing the lack of recycling and composting happening in their building, remembered doing these things back in middle school and took up the charge. They created a plan of attack to establish recycling and composting systems, met with their administration and the superintendent, and proposed a plan for change in their school. It is inspiring moments like this that makes all the planning and hard work by school garden coordinators and school community worth the effort.
To contact Bonny Eagle Middle School, email their school garden coordinator, Ethel Atkinson at EAtkinson@bonnyeagle.org.