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Elementary school has gone green

Students at Farmington Elementary School have gotten used to sorting out their food waste after lunch every day. They pour out excess milk, put compostable items into a bin to be composted, and throw away very little these days. More schools are likely to start the new program in February.

Over at Farmington Elementary School, not all lessons are taught in the classrooms. Some are taught in the lunchroom.

Just over a month ago, FES went organic in the lunchroom. The food changed a little bit, but it's more a change in attitude - and a few utensils - that qualifies the school for its new designation.

The project is a collaboration between District 192, Chartwells Food Service, Schools for Energy Efficiency, Dakota County and Dick's Sanitation. Its aim is simple: to reduce the amount of refuse coming out of the lunchroom and to teach students to be more earth-conscious.

It goes beyond simply recycling certain kinds of containers, principal Ben Januschka said. The new program is geared to help students understand the impact they can have on reducing the amount of trash that ends up in landfills. It's knowledge they can use in their own homes and later in life.

The idea came up in October, when SEE representative Ann Anderson was contacted by Dakota County Environmental Services about an enhanced program that would reduce waste within the schools. Anderson brought it to District 192, where the idea took on a life of its own.

Anderson was contacted by Dick's Sanitation in Lakeville. The company has its own food waste composting program, and makes frequent trips to Northfield to make collections. Because FES was on the way, they decided the school would be a good place to run the District 192 pilot program.

The program required a some preparation. Students had to be taught what was compostable and what was not. Early in on the program, Anderson and food service director Peggy Anderberg spent a little time in the lunchroom, watching how things went and seeing if changes could be made.

And a few could be. For instance, they noticed that students were filling four 60-gallon garbage bins with food waste every day. Much of that could be composted, but some of it - like the Dorito bags kids got for their walking tacos - could not. The solution was simple enough. Anderberg changed the menu and now FES offers just regular soft and hard shell tacos instead of ones that required extra packaging.

"I started looking at the menu and seeing what's on there. In some cases it was like, is it something we can find a different product for or a different way of doing this?" Anderberg said.

Anderson learned of a company that offered compostable serving ware, which has replaced the silverware in the lunchroom. That way, spoons and forks can be composted, instead of using extra water and detergent to wash them.

So far, so good

A little over a month in, the program seems to be gaining momentum. At the end of lunch, students line up to clear their trays. The lunch trays are the only items that do not go into one of the three barrels lined up at the front of the lunchroom.

In the first barrel, they can dump out any milk left in their cartons. The second barrel is for all of the compostable materials, including the milk cartons, paper cups and bowls, and the new serving ware. Finally, if there are any non-compostable items on the plates, those items are dropped into the last barrel, which is there to collect garbage.

The program is working well, Anderson said. Where four barrels of trash were collected before, there are now three barrels of compostable foodstuff and one barrel of trash.

"It makes a huge difference," Anderson said.

And there's another bonus. Because there is no tax on recycling, the process costs the school less than what it paid for garbage removal.

With time, Anderson and Anderberg hope to see all of the schools in District 192 using the composting methods for food waste removal. A meeting was scheduled this week to talk about starting a similar program in two more Farmington schools in February.

"Being more earth conscious as a company, we would like to be more responsible with our community and our environment," Anderberg said. "At FES, they've really picked it up and are being more conscious about it. They're getting it. They understand it, and they're helping the students learn how the environment works."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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