Turning food scraps into soil
by Julie Vecchitto
Posted July 7, 2011
Katherine Crane ’12 had an idea: why not compost food waste at Hotchkiss? So, she sent out an e-mail last October to see if her concept could work. And in the weeks before the end of school, a trial run of composting in the dining hall began.
“The main reason why I wanted to start it at Hotchkiss is because it simply made sense,” explains Katherine, who is known as Bean. “Instead of shipping all our food waste away to be put in a landfill, we could use those nutrients on the farm and our gardens. I ended up seeing it as a concrete way I could give back to the School.”
But Bean didn’t want to take credit for originating the idea, saying, “Mr. [Tim] Schilling said he's been wanting this to happen for a long time, and Glenn (who works in the dining hall) said he's always wondered why we don't do something with all the food we waste.” She also gives great credit to members of the composting team: Director of Environmental Initiatives Josh Hahn; Charlie Noyes, instructor in Art and the founder of the Fairfield Farm Environmental and Adventure Team (FFEAT); Grounds Supervisor Tim Schilling; Joey McClain, who manages the dining hall; and Nadiya Hafizofa ‘11, Liz Constantino ’11, and Bean. “And there are many others who helped us out,” she says.
The persistent Ms. Crane was impressed with the cooperation she received from the School’s administration. “I got all the heavy-hitters in a room together and asked them questions about the feasibility of this and that and what we could do. It would have never have happened if Mr. Hahn, Mr. Schilling, Mr. McClain, and Mr. Noyes weren't so open to listening to students' ideas and willing to help make them happen.”
Bean’s family created its own compost pile last summer, so she had a sense of how simple and practical composting was on a small scale. “I thought that if I could build it at my house, I could build it at school. Naturally after my first meeting with all those realistic administrators, I realized that this was idealistic, and that the project was going to have to be bigger than that. I have never implemented or influenced any policy or administration before, so this was definitely a steep learning curve. But for the most part I was pleasantly surprised at how cooperative everyone was and how easy it ended up being.”
So after many months of planning, the Composting Team sent out another e-mail about their progress. This time, they provided instructions to the entire campus community about the proper methods of composting in the dining hall. “It will work like this: you will empty your food scraps into the bin as usual (but we have upgraded to biodegradable bags), from there the waste management company will load our bins of food waste into a truck. The waste will be composted -- meaning turned back into soil -- at Laurel Brook Farm, which is about 15 miles away. This trial run will start Monday and go through the end of Summer Portals. It will help us to successfully implement composting starting in September. It will also allow us to track how much money we can save by diverting the food from our dumpster and our sewer.”
The trial has begun with small but important changes, like eliminating individually wrapped oyster crackers and saltines in the serving area of the dining hall. Behind the scenes, there will be more activity. Bean explains, “We are starting this with all the food preparation the chefs do in the back of the house and in the dish line. In the future we will expand to the other receptacles in the dining hall and eventually our whole campus. We also hope to do the composting on our own farm within the next few years.”
Reflecting on initiating and executing a project of this size, Bean did admit there were a few pitfalls, “I sent out the original email in October, so the process took almost the whole school year... at times it was daunting and frustrating, and the hardest part was the tendency for people, including myself, to lose motivation and initiative.”
But Bean and the composting team worked past their obstacles, and the result of their effort is a big step toward a greener Hotchkiss. “By participating you will be saving food waste from taking up landfill space, and you will be putting it to good use. Your food waste will no longer be waste; it will soon be soil and you'll see it in Hotchkiss's gardens next year.” What a great concept!