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A mini-workshop was held for custodians this week to explain how to maintain the new composting bins at Annie Vinton and Goodwin Elementary Schools.
Mansfield schools have been very active composters for the past 10 years, and some of our activities have earned state recognition. Southeast and Goodwin Schools have both earned Green School Awards.
What was a small composting pilot program at Southeast Elementary School in 1995 has blossomed into on-site composting systems at four Mansfield schools.
Today, food scraps are composted and used as potting soil by students in the Green Thumbs Club to grow plants in the school’s greenhouse. These plants are then sold in the spring to the Southeast School community.
Mansfield Middle School gives away its compost at the end of the school year.
New composting bins at Vinton and Goodwin
With the beginning of this new school year, Mansfield is about to expand its composting efforts, with two new composting systems – one at Annie Vinton Elementary School and the other at Goodwin Elementary School.
Until now, lunchtime food waste from these two schools was transported to either Southeast Elementary School’s or the Mansfield Middle School’s compost bins, or donated to a local pig farm.
On Aug. 20, we held a mini-workshop with the custodial staff to explain how to compost. Director of Maintenance Bill Hammon and Head Custodian at Southeast School Bill Bradley demonstrated how to use the new compost bins.
Superintendent Fred Baruzzi and Finance Director Jeff Smith also stopped by to learn more about the composting process.
Mr. Baruzzi said he especially liked the idea that students could learn about the process by seeing it in various stages – the food waste as it is first collected, the material as it starts to break down and begins to look more like soil than garbage, and then the finished product that looks just like regular potting soil.
Grab a handful of the “finished” compost, and you will see that there’s no longer any sign of the potato chips, unfinished peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple cores, or hamburger buns that it was made from.
“This is a great outdoor classroom,” Mr. Baruzzi said.
Sturdy, efficient design
Peter St. Laurent, Mansfield public works carpenter, built the compost bins used at all the Mansfield elementary schools.
Sturdy hardware cloth – a kind of heavy-duty mesh – allows air to enter the bin, while keeping wildlife out.
A counter-weight makes it easy to open and close the attached lid.
A concrete base allows the school custodian to easily turn the pile with a Kabota, a small tractor with a bucket.
After lunch, the food waste will be deposited into the composting bin and covered with wood chips and/or leaves.
What’s that smell?
Every few weeks the decomposing food and wood chips/leaves will be mixed using the Kabota, which “fluffs up” the material to make sure air circulates through the pile.
If this isn’t done, the compost becomes what’s known as anaerobic – without oxygen – and it begins to give off a truly foul odor. That smell is a good clue that it’s time to add some more wood chips and turn the compost pile.
Mr. Bradley told the custodial staff, though, that they don’t want to turn the piles too often. It is important to let the pile heat up to about 140 degrees Fahrenheit (the temperature of warm bath water).
The heat indicates active microbial activity. And it is the microbes – bacteria and fungi – that are responsible for turning the food waste to a rich soil. The hotter the pile, the more quickly the compost will turn to a finished soil or humus .
What about winter?
The custodians who will be handling composting for the first time this year had a few questions, including how to take care of the bins in the winter.
I explained that once the snow starts to fly, their tractors will have a plow attachment on and they will be unable to turn the pile until warmer weather returns.
Our schools are very proud of their recycling efforts. In fact, teachers from other schools and even from other states have come to tour our schools to look at our composting program.
I don’t know of any other communities in the state where all of their schools are composting.
Composting is a great way to enrich your own garden, and reduce the amount of waste placed in your trash cans.
You can learn more about composting in general and the Middle School’s program by visiting the Mansfield Middle School Web site.
And feel free to call me at 429-3333.
1. Bill Bradley, Head Custodian at Southeast School.
2. Custodial staff asks Virginia Walton questions about maintaining the composting bins.
3. The bins were built by Peter St. Laurent.
4. The bins have removable slats.
5. Virginia Walton holds soil created by food waste that has composted for two years.
6. Another bin holds material still “cooking,” that was composted one year ago.
7. Compost is used by students in the Green Thumbs club to grow plants in the greenhouse at Southeast Elementary.
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