Composting Program Teaches Students about Self-Sustainability

(Lydia Hastings is working at FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center as the Marketing AmeriCorps VISTA. She originally joined the OEC staff over the summer as the Kitchen Coordinator.)

Composting. While a lot of people have heard of this concept of taking raw, organic materials and creating nutrient-rich soil, not many people know the reason or principle behind doing it. Sure, it is a great way of utilizing decomposable waste, but what is the real purpose behind saving this organic matter?

While there are many variations to the process of composting, the main principle behind breaking down organic matter is to utilize the nutrients that are naturally found in food and waste products. By adding those nutrients into the ground, it enhances the soil’s health and growing capabilities.

Many visitors who come to enjoy The Outdoor Education Center of For Love of Children (OEC) might assume that the land has a well-balanced nutrient count by observing the lush tree covering and the thick groves of Paw Paws, however, a closer look reveals that the acreage on which the OEC is located has a very poor soil quality.

In an interview with the Site and Sustainability Coordinator at the OEC, Kevin Hughes stated that the reason for a low nutrient content in the soil is over-farming. OEC’s land was at one time inhabited by European settlers. When these settlers first started managing the land, they removed all of the trees and over-farmed the hillsides. The nutrients once found in the soil are now depleted and many of the native, deciduous plants on the property are no longer able to grow. The forest now covering the land has only started rebuilding itself in the last 100 years.

With this knowledge, and the ever-challenging desire to be self-sustainable, the OEC is currently in full swing with their composting program. They have been gathering organic matter from kitchen scraps, leaf litter and their composting toilets to demonstrate to students the vast benefits of broken down macrobiotic material.

The students use, actively participate in, and benefit from the composting program. One aspect is the process of taking all the kitchen and dining hall scraps and placing them into the center’s composting bins. In the bins, the organic matter is turned and broken down until ready for use. At this time the rich, black material is placed on top of the OEC’s vegetable garden. The nutrients from the organic materials are absorbed into the soil and help produce high quality vegetables. These vegetables are harvested from the gardens and used to supplement all food that is produced by the OEC’s kitchen.

All material gathered from the composting toilets are also stored and turned for three years. At that point, the matter is scattered into the woods and on the ornamental gardens to increase the health of the soil throughout the property.

By participating in this program, FLOC’s students are not only improving their own health by increasing the quality of food produced by the OEC’s kitchen, but they are also helping the sustainability of the OEC. This cycle will insure another year of healthy growth in the center’s gardens and around the grounds by enriching the natural soils of the landscape.

For more information on composting and gardening programs, please contact the Outdoor Education Center at 304.725.0409.

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