Compost Challenge at Mallinckrodt Academy

Mallinckrodt Academy’s Compost Bin with a fresh layer of “greens” to balance its mix.

Whether you enjoy a good steak or are a vegetarian, the truth is we all rely on healthy soil in which to grow our food (or our cows food). Simply put, we would not be able to eat without soil. Over the last week the fourth graders at Mallinckrodt Academy have been learning about the importance of soil to our world.

Depending on the local climate, it can take hundreds of years to develop one inch of topsoil. That can be difficult to demonstrate in the classroom. Fortunately, there’s a way for students to speed this process along – composting in the school garden.

Healthy compost consists of nitrogen rich greens: food scraps, grass clippings, and weeds that haven’t yet gone to seed, layered with carbon filled browns: dried leaves, newspaper, and straw, all mixed with a bit of water and soil (to inoculate new batches of compost with microorganisms that will help to decompose the compost over time). This week the fourth graders of Mallinckrodt spent some quality time observing their compost bin, and discovered that the balance of “browns” and “greens” was off. A compost bin that is piled high with mostly oak leaves would break down eventually, but not anytime soon. When the students were asked how they could remedy the imbalance, the answer was clear – the food scraps from their lunches would be perfect!

Lunchroom to Compost

Mallinckrodt Academy has had an active school composting program for the last few years, but in recent weeks the school has streamlined their method to great success.

When the program was first implemented, it began with a single bucket placed near the cafeteria trash can during lunch. This quickly proved to be too messy, leading to extra work for the janitorial staff.

Mallinckrodt students separating their personal food scraps for composting during lunch.

After weeks of enduring this method, the lunchroom staff came up with a workable solution. Rather than using just one bucket placed near the trash, cafeteria staff purchased small buckets like the kind used for sanitizing water to put at each table. With a few announcements during lunch from Youth Educator Meg Holmes, Senior Jake Norman the spanish teacher, and even Mr. DeAndre Thomas the principal, students soon knew to throw excess food they weren’t going to eat into the compost. Even more importantly, the students knew which food could be composted (apple cores, bread crust, peas) and which food stuffs could not (trash, chicken nuggets, milk).

Although the students of Mallinckrodt experienced a few growing pains when first beginning to compost their food scraps, the school as a whole now diverts several pounds a week from the trashcan to the compost bin! The school has even gone so far as too instigate “Waste Not Wednesdays” which has become a positive way to include the whole school, students and staff, to care for their garden and the earth.

-Meg Holmes, Gateway Greening Youth Educator


Gateway Greening challenges each of our In-Network School and Community Gardens to take on The Compost Challenge in 2017. Are you game?


Additional Resources:

Looking for more information on composting or implementing school composting programs? Check out these resources, or email our Educators at [email protected].

Video: An overview of composting

Video: This Week in the Community Garden – Composting

Video: Composting at Busch Middle School of Character