Wasted food inspires compost senior project

Patricia Yadao, Artistic Editor

In an effort to save money currently being dumped into trash cans in the form of healthy lunch side dishes such as potassium-rich bananas and leafy greens in salad containers, senior May Simpson has proposed a composting plan to administrators along with plans to begin a school garden.

Michelle Obama’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 mandates that kids are served a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables. The act’s mission is to provide healthier school lunches, and as a long-term effect, help steer the nation’s children and young adults to a lifetime of healthy eating habits and prevent childhood obesity.

However, since these new nutritional rules were implemented into the school lunch programs, students have rebelled by tossing much of their uneaten food away, defeating its purpose. The National School Boards Association’s survey results reports confirm that more than four-fifths of school districts are seeing a rise in concern regarding food waste.

Watching the food waste pile up inspired Simpson to craft her own three-step composition plan (preparation, composting and harvest) to promote a greener environment as part of her senior project.

“In the past four years I have observed a high quantity of food waste generated by our school meals (mainly vegetables) —  waste that could be composted to make fertilizer for my school to grow our own lunch ingredients,” Simpson said. “Many suggested ideas about what to do but no one ever got anything started. I am proud to have selected an ambitious project that could potentially affect my community positively on a great scale.”

Simpson has dedicated her senior project to her ongoing proposal to build a compost center for Bear Creek and, potentially, the city of Stockton.

The idea is to take fruits and vegetables that students throw away to make rich soil through composting for the school’s FFA program. FFA wants to start a school garden to cultivate Bear Creek’s own produce supply readily available for students. More ideas for the use of compost were brought up as Simpson’s English teacher Lynda Farrar suggested that the compost could be used as fertilizers for landscaping as well.

“We’ve been planning it [plot of land] since we started our program back in 2012 and it’s still a long way in the process,” FFA advisor Tiffany Trexler said. “It’s something we’ve been working with Ms. Baysinger on, trying to adopt a Farm-to-Fork thing.”

FFA’s “garden” is actually bigger than an average garden covering a quarter to half an acre. This plot of land is intended to serve as a multipurpose production area to grow a variety of different things from fruit trees, vegetables, seasonal vegetables, turf grass, to maybe even a pumpkin patch.

Simpson volunteered at a local agricultural nonprofit organization called Puentes to acquire knowledge from experienced compost workers. Her final product is a proposal for the administration as well as a lesson plan to educate the student body on the process of composting since students will become the caretakers.

“Creating an efficient means to deal with our food waste will not only address the economic factor to our school, but also the environmental factor for my personal values as well as the community involvement concern that I have with my peers,” Simpson said.

Trexler is hopeful about the composting plan, but notes that many details still have to be addressed.

“A compost program would be great and it would be beneficial to use on that area of land but there’s just not enough details yet and that area of land is not even anywhere near being able to be ready,” Trexler said. “Somebody has to dig through those compost bins, somebody has to make sure the trash isn’t in the compost bins and that it is only the stuff that’s supposed to be in there, so it’s details like that we haven’t got an answer in yet from Simpson that we need before we can say we’ll help out.”

While Simpson readily prepares to tackle the issues of plate waste at Bear Creek, the responsibility heavily falls into the hands of students to throw away the food in the correct trash bin. If leftover meat or oil is mixed in with the fruits and vegetables in the bin, the collected produce that could have been potentially saved is wasted.

“If my composting plan does work out, everyone will be participating,” Simpson said. “That’s perhaps the best part.”