Grand Rapids — “We made compost!” shouted kindergartner Maddox Larabee from the garden outside Shawmut Hills Elementary, matter-of-factly summarizing the day’s activity.
With the help of a grant from the Community Collaboration on Climate Change — or C4 — Maddox and many of his schoolmates were able to kick off a composting project that’s been in the planning stages at Shawmut for years. C4 is a climate justice organization that works to make environmental work more equitable through community partnerships and education.
The grant from C4 paid for compost bins, as well as supplies and labor to build them. It also helped fund community compost workshops with Wormies Vermicompost, a local composting business that uses worms to create fertilizer for customers’ gardens and other projects.
‘Like Vitamins for the Plants’
During the workshop that inspired Maddox’s giddy exclamation, Wormies owner Luis Chen and operations manager Chandler Michalsky guided Shawmut students through the process of returning leftover food scraps back to the soil to help future plants grow in the school’s garden.
“We’re going to use compost from the school — the lunches — to put in our compost bin to start the process of composting and getting the new soil that we’ll use, eventually, in our garden,” said second-grade teacher Stacy VanderMolen.
VanderMolen was one of three teachers whose classes attended the recent workshop. She said it was her students’ first look at the school’s new composting setup.
‘We’re taking it slow, so that plants can grow first, so then it can be a better environment.’— Christopher Rose, Shawmut Hills Elementary second-grader
Pears, leaves and wood chips were mixed up and added to the bins, where they’ll be broken down by worms, as well other organisms, soil-based bacteria and fungi.
Come spring, that compost will turn into fertilizing soil for the garden.
“It’s like vitamins for the plants,” Chen told the students.
Getting Their Hands Dirty
From grinding up fruit to gathering mulch, leaves and weeds, students got to do a bit of everything.
Maddox excelled at the activity, but he’s an old hand.
“I’ve worked with my dad a couple times doing this, so it’s easy for me,” he said. “I liked that I got to do the digging and the spreading.”
Christopher Rose, a student in VanderMolen’s class, is also well on his way to becoming a composting expert.
“You need some, like, stuff to actually compost. … You need fruits and stuff,” Christopher explained, before stressing that the Shawmut students were still just getting started.
“We have the worms in there, but we’re taking it slow, so that plants can grow first, so then it can be a better environment,” he said.
VanderMolen said composting materials were pulled from school lunches. Things will come full circle when fruits and veggies start to spring up in the garden. What grows will go right back to the kitchen.
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