Friday, April 2, 2010

Our Earth – Our Future – Our Chance to Make a Difference at Noble Middle School

By Jim Kanak
Staff Columnist
This spring, a group of seventh and eighth graders at the Noble Middle School are planting a vegetable garden on a couple of four by 12-foot plots in front of the school. That may not sound significant, but it is. The plots are part of a year-long project by the teacher Cathy Mende and the school’s Green Team to reduce the amount of left-over’s from the school cafeteria that end up in a landfill and compost them instead. The resulting compost will be used to enrich the soil in which the vegetable garden will be planted. Those vegetables, then, will make their way to the school cafeteria next fall, thus completing the cycle.
“We got a mini-grant from the KIDS Consortium,” Mende said. “The grant is all about composting and turning it into a garden.”
The process began in the fall, when Mende’s team of seventh and eighth graders went to work in the cafeteria, monitoring the collection of left-over’s at lunch time.
“We have teams that collect food scraps and teachers’ coffee grounds in the cafeteria,” said seventh grader Ryan Babcock. “We have two compost tumblers to compost the food into soil.”
Working in teams, the kids collect uneaten vegetables for the tumblers, but not meat, fish or cheese products. Babcock and seventh graders Ruby Jones and Alyssa Flagg, for example, comprised one team doing cafeteria duty. The tumblers sit outside the cafeteria doors and are turned five revolutions each day by team members.
“We had over 200 pounds of food,” said Flagg.
Indeed, the group eventually ran out of space in the original tumblers and began to take the food to the high school. “They have an earth tub composter, and they’re also composting,” said Mende.
The composting project isn’t the only thing the group has been working on. With a goal of reducing the school’s overall generation of solid waste, there are plenty of other things as well. “We also started collecting bottles and cans to get recycling money,” Babcock said. “In the past 18 months, we collected 11,000 aluminum cans and 12,000 plastic bottles.”
Some of their work is meant to educate their peers. “We collected milk cartons,” said Emma McDonough-Doane, an eighth grader. “They couldn’t be recycled but we collected them anyway and set them out front so people could see how many we used.”
Flagg noted that conservation involved everyone at the school. “We’re doing a little with energy by replacing the windows on the side of the building and outing motion detectors (to activate lights) I the gym,” she said.
“There’s also more efficient lighting in the cafeteria,” said Mende.
Mende noted that conservation was a school-district wide activity. Besides the composting at the high school, she noted that the Knowlton School had solar panels for energy and also operated a green house. That green house is where Mende’s team will get the seedlings for its garden plants.
“We’ll plant in early May,” said eighth grader Ashley Cox. “We’ll use seedlings and start from scratch.”
What happens to the garden after the school year ends? “We need to figure out who will take care of the garden when school’s out,” Mende said. “We’ll have a plan by June. This is a new undertaking. We haven’t done anything like this before.”
One thing, though, is likely. When the middle school kids dig in to their vegetables next fall in the cafeteria, they’ll know where they came from, the ultimate in locally grown food.
And for that, they can thank Mende and the 26 members of the Green Team at Noble Middle School.
Photo caption: The Noble Middle School Green Team hopes to grow vegetables in the school’s first ever garden this spring. (Courtesy photo)