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composting for a school  RSS feed

 
Joe Tulanowski
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Hi all! First post here. I've had a garden for 14 years, been composting my whole life, and recently discovered that I'm a permaculturist, more or less. I've even started a food forest in my suburban backyard this spring! The more I learn about permaculture, the more it makes sense.
I am a maintenance worker for a small private school in Pennsylvania with about 240 total students. The school recently implemented an "environmental sustainability initiative" which includes hiring a chef to cook local, organic, etc. meals from scratch and they are putting in a vegetable garden and want to reduce energy usage. They have asked me for my input on making the school more environmentally sustainable. Any ideas here are welcome and could potentially be passed on as mainstream to the next generation!
But specifically I need info on composting kitchen/cafeteria scraps including paper and meat and large amounts of grass clippings from 3 (chemically treated) athletic fields. We have a small front end loader and an open area near some woods for possibly some compost windrows. I forsee topdressing the athletic fields with sifted compost instead of chemical fertilizers as a possible use for the finished product. More vegetable gardens and maybe a food forest could be possible as well. There are some at this school who would love to go full on green but those in power seem to be just warming up to the idea of sustainability and, I suspect, simply like the potential marketability of it. Either way it's a great opportunity and I'd love to hear some ideas! Thanks!
 
Leila Rich
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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That sounds fantastic!
I'm very much of the 'just compost it' school
But you speak of 'chemically treated' grass. While it's never ideal, compost microbes can usually cope.
There's some lawn chemicals which are extremely persistent and don't get locked up in the composting process though.
I'd ask what's used on the grass, and if not poisoning isn't an option, make sure they're not using these-
lawn poisons link
Clopyralid

I'd also go for a chat with teachers involving words like "poison"...and..."kids"
 
Joe Tulanowski
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Leila, thanks for the eye-opening links. I'll check on what chemicals are used. Any idea how long these chemicals can persist? I used some of the 2-3 year old composted grass clippings when sheet mulching a 100 square foot section of my own lawn this spring into which I planted a filbert and several annual vegetables and flowers and this bed is the most vigorous and productive spot in my garden right now. In fact, I seem to have imported some new broadleaf weeds with the composted clippings.
 
Joe Tulanowski
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The chemicals in the Agway weed and feed used on the athletic fields: 2,4-d, 2-ethylhexyl ester, mecoprop-p acid, dicamba acid, dithiopyr
 
John Elliott
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Joe Tulanowski wrote: Any idea how long these chemicals can persist?


That depends on a large number of factors; if the soil has a healthy amount of fungal activity, they won't persist long. But I would expect whatever is in them when it first snows to stick around until well into the spring thaw.

One of your first jobs should be to wean the landscapers off of the chemicals they are using. Here is a little story about a golf course that decided to go organic, maybe that will catch their interest.

My guess is that two to three year old composted grass clippings are going to be very low in any of the applied chemicals.

One suggestion I would make is to plant a bunch of ornamental kales to welcome the kids back to school in the fall. They are just as colorful as flower plantings, and so the parents will be dropping the kids off at an attractively landscaped place. Then as the kale grows through the fall months, you can cut it to supply the chef. Ornamental kale is just a little tougher than the varieties raised for consumption, so it takes a little more cooking, but it is just as nutritious.

If you want to have plants that you can harvest through the school year, then you will need to plant some that are tolerant of your winters. Here is my list of cold tolerant vegetables from another thread.
 
Frank Brentwood
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Location: Long Island, NY (Zone 7)
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Joe Tulanowski wrote:Hi all! First post here. I've had a garden for 14 years, been composting my whole life, and recently discovered that I'm a permaculturist, more or less. I've even started a food forest in my suburban backyard this spring! The more I learn about permaculture, the more it makes sense.
I am a maintenance worker for a small private school in Pennsylvania with about 240 total students. The school recently implemented an "environmental sustainability initiative" which includes hiring a chef to cook local, organic, etc. meals from scratch and they are putting in a vegetable garden and want to reduce energy usage. They have asked me for my input on making the school more environmentally sustainable. Any ideas here are welcome and could potentially be passed on as mainstream to the next generation!
But specifically I need info on composting kitchen/cafeteria scraps including paper and meat and large amounts of grass clippings from 3 (chemically treated) athletic fields. We have a small front end loader and an open area near some woods for possibly some compost windrows. I forsee topdressing the athletic fields with sifted compost instead of chemical fertilizers as a possible use for the finished product. More vegetable gardens and maybe a food forest could be possible as well. There are some at this school who would love to go full on green but those in power seem to be just warming up to the idea of sustainability and, I suspect, simply like the potential marketability of it. Either way it's a great opportunity and I'd love to hear some ideas! Thanks!


If the school is really serious about this "environmental sustainability initiative", can they possibly be convinced to go organic in the care and feeding of their athletic fields?

Or why not mulch-mow those fields instead of taking all the grass clippings away? (Along with all of that really expensive nitrogen they pumped into the grass.)

I am sure that some of the more knowledgeable people here could give you a cost breakdown on organic care with mulch-mowing versus traditional landscaping practices and hauling away clippings.

If not that, take a look in your area for companies that do organic lawn care. They are becoming more and more popular and I bet you could find at least one who would jump at the chance to put in a bid for your greens-keeping.

One thing I have learned in dealing with bureaucracies: If you can make it about the money, you can win them over. Show them how organic can be better for the planet as well as their wallet and you will have it made.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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You can safely compost meat if you are careful, but most people frown on it. Black soldier fly larvae are a great way to deal with food waste. If you can figure out what to use the larvae for (they should support a large flock of chickens or pond of fish).

You should be on the scale of that you may even want a compost windrow turner for your small tractor, from a time and fuel savings. You could get the kids to do "community projects" to pick up leaves from parks and little old ladies' houses, and have parents drop off their leaves and clippings, too. Although there may be political or liability issues there.

Non-glossy paper composts much faster if you can shred it first. It also is a good carbon source to go with all the grass clippings.

 
Ken Peavey
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The large volume of grass clippings sounds yummy. The chemical treatment is a hassle, but not insurmountable. Consider the notion that life WANTS to thrive.
I'm guessing the three fields are all mowed at the same time. This gives you grass clippings in batches rather than continuously. Left in heaps of only clippings they will tend to ferment in a few days and start stinking up the place. Is there manpower available to build proper compost heaps/windrows when the clippings arrive? Pennsylvania suggests a humongous volume of leaves available locally. Combining the leaves and paper with the clippings would be the direction I would pursue, as well as heaps of leaves only for producing leaf mold. How much area is available for the composting project? Time would be the tool to use for those field treatments. Even if the compost is spread across an athletic field, its still kids who would be exposed to the residuals. Getting the chems out of the loop sure would be a treat.
The batch aspect causes some pause. Adding such volume of high N grass clippings to a heap all at once can generate an immense amount of heat. Spontaneous combustion can occur-something I never put much stock in until I saw it with my own eyes.

Meats
240 hungry, active kids, I'm guessing they will eat most of the meats. What remains, if composted, could become odorous and attractive to vermin-rats, mice, squirrels, skunks. You'd be adding fresh bait with each meal. Proximity to the school grounds would urge me to decompose the meats off site. A vegetative compost heap will go over well with the school directors. As a class project, vermicomposting can handle a small amount of that meat.

Method
If the powers that be are just warming up to these ideas, it may be wise to replace a little bit of eco-friendly with a little bit of Administrator-friendly. A windrow along the woods is out of the way. Could the windrow be created in the woods? I'm thinking out of sight, out of mind. If shredded paper is to be included in the compost recipe, the pile can easily be considered unsightly. It would be disappointing to put in the work to build a windrow only to get a memo instructing it be removed.
Hiding the compost behind a barrier may be an avenue to pursue. Perhaps a bin system rather than windrows would have the Admin-friendly touch needed to move the project ahead and keep it moving forward. Wire fence piled high with leaves could make a suitable barrier, but would need to be replenished every couple of months. The wire fence barrier would help keep things tidy when the March winds come.

Safety
The batch aspect of the grass clippings causes some pause. Adding such volume of high N grass clippings to a heap all at once can generate an immense amount of heat. Spontaneous combustion can occur-something I never put much stock in until I saw it with my own eyes. Vandalism is a concern. Piles of dry leaves can be intentionally set afire. Composting meats draws rodents, rodents draw snakes, snakes and kids are not the best match.
If composting on site is not an option, there are people out there who would probably jump at the chance for a regular source of food scraps, piles of grass clippings, and sacks of shredded paper. Putting together a Compostable Waste Program would remove these items from the waste stream, can reduce dump fees to the school, and provide the community with a source of compostable materials. A 3 sided shed could hold bagged paper. A pile of grass clippings beside the paper shed could be accessed by the public, bring your own pitchfork. Contact the local County Extension when grass clippings are to be dropped, they know lots of people who will come for them. They may even bring some finished compost back as a Thank You. The food scraps would be best served by a regular person/company coming to get them daily, swapping out clean containers for full containers. The pig farmers love this stuff.


 
Ken Peavey
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Location: FL
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Would the administration be interested in some school mascots?
See thread: Feeding restaurant scraps to chickens
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