Between the Rows: Composting before kindergarten

  • Students at the Academy of Early Leaning view of the garden compost bin, one the six garden compost bins now located at each public Greenfield school. For The Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Preschoolers ask questions about composting by the new garden compost bin at the Academy of Early Leaning. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Amy Donovan, program director of the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District, speaks to children at the Academy of Early Learning about composting. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • The cafeteria at the Academy of Early Learning has a composting setup that children use to dispose of food scraps and other items. For The Recorder/Pat Leuchtman


For the Recorder
Published: 6/1/2018 1:51:18 PM

Amy Donovan, program director of the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District (FCSWMD), recently invited me to a compost tour at the Academy of Early Learning where 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children begin their academic studies. The tour began with Donovan’s PowerPoint presentation about recycling. I was impressed by the children’s attentive engagement.

The children were familiar with the idea of recycling. They were already using the recycling system Donovan had set up in the school cafeteria. Instead of just tossing any lunch remains into a garbage can to be hauled away to the dump, these young children learned to throw non-compostable items in a trash bin, compostables like lunch remnants and the paper napkins and trays that held their lunch into another bin, and leftover milk or soup into a large bucket and colander arrangement. A small red bin was on each lunch table, ready to accept non-compostable plastic forks and spoons. All the cafeteria compostables will be towed off to the composting operation at Martin’s Farm in Greenfield at the end of every week.

There are recycling refinements that were explained in the PowerPoint presentation. The children were all eager to show that they knew the difference between items that could go into a compost bin, and those that could not. They were also beginning to learn that worms could make compost, too. There are two classroom worm bins that rotate between classrooms for periods of time. Worms turn some of the classroom snacks and paper napkins into worm castings and compost. The children can marvel at the mystery of paper napkins turning into dirt.

After the presentation, Donovan took the children outside to see the new garden compost bin. No food scraps go into this, mostly just leaves and grass clippings. This circular bin is quite a bit larger than the bins we have in our backyards. There is no lid to screw on. Instead, there is a large black lid that strongly resembles an upside-down funnel. This fits inside the bin itself. Donovan explained this is another way of making compost. At the end of this school year, each public Greenfield school will have an on-site garden compost bin for composting the school’s garden and yard waste, and the occasional snack waste.

The final leg of the tour took us behind the school, outside the cafeteria where we peeked into the big dumpster where cafeteria recycling bags are dumped. Every month Triple T Trucking brings five tons of composting food and paper waste from the six Greenfield schools to Martin’s Farm.

Donovan started these activities as part of the three-year, $30,000 Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) School Recycling Assistance grant. The grant funded the programs, and the equipment and signage to make the programs successful. The grant ends on June 30, but Donovan said these composting activities will continue.

The $30,000 grant made it possible to give all six Greenfield schools a successful cafeteria and kitchen compost program, and each of these schools also has at least one active classroom worm compost bin. Over the past 18 years, 14 other schools in the county have been installing cafeteria composting programs and classroom vermicomposting programs. Over the three years of the grant, cafeteria and kitchen waste has reduced by 75 to 80 percent in each school.

“We have reached a major milestone. The vast majority of public schools in Franklin County, 25 of them, now compost food and paper waste from cafeterias and kitchens,” Donovan said. “There are also eight schools that separate food waste for pig or chicken farmers. Massachusetts leads the nation in efforts to protect our climate and reduce emissions, and Franklin County leads the state in school, transfer station and business composting.”

As I learned about the composting program, I also learned about the way The Green Team, an environmental club, also sponsored by the MassDEP, provides resources like posters, lesson plans and activities for teachers to use to teach waste reduction, recycling and composting, as well as other environmental issues in the classroom. The children and classes can even win prizes for their projects.

I think it is exciting that these environmental projects give children a chance to learn about math and science and writing. There are so many things to count, and natural processes to explore and to write about. Meeting the curriculum guidelines does not have to be limited to textbook lessons. They will discover the need for these skills when they have real world problems to solve.

It was wonderful to see that the preschoolers at the Academy of Early Learning are not only learning to use their manners, to take turns and be considerate with their classmates, but to be attentive, to look and observe, and to think about the world around them.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website:


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