Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sprouts of Hope: Keeping A River Healthy

Cleaning Up Along the Mystic River

By Maya

On Sunday, October 4th, two members of the Sprouts of Hope – me and Eliza – participated in the Roots & Shoots’ Mystic River clean up. Cambridge, the city where we live, is part of the the river's watershed, so it was fun to be doing something that helps the river and our community.

When we started, Beth Meserve, who works with MyRWA (the Mystic River Watershed Association) told us about efforts to keep the river clean and then showed us how she tests the water for various things. In one test, we used PH strips to find out the acidity of the river’s water. We did other tests on water samples to learn about the levels of nutrients and bacteria in the water. She also told us about how volunteers have been collecting water samples every month at 15 locations along the Mystic River -- and testing them -- since 2000. (You can learn more about how MyRWA keeps the river healthy at
Watch and listen -- on YouTube -- as Beth tells us about taking care of the river and Eliza and I do some tests.

The water turned out to be pretty clean and healthy, but there was still a lot of trash in and around the river -- and that was what we wanted to clean up. When trash falls into the river, it contributes to make the river less healthy.

We put on boots and gloves grabbed some trash bags and headed of to start the clean up. We found a lot of trash on the streets and parks, so we ended up cleaning more than just the river.

There were bottles, paper, cigarettes, glass, empty bags of chips, toys, wrappers, straws, cans, and even a tire stuck in the ground. One person found a bike at the bottom of the river. When the clean-up was over, we had so many trash bags filled with trash. We ate donuts and muffins until all the clean-up groups returned.

Then each of us wrote a sentence on a strip of paper about why we were here or what the river means to us. Eliza wrote: "I came because rivers are important." And I wrote that "I hope this river will always be clean." We did this activity so we could help the river and so others could learn about why the Mystic River is so special and why it should be kept clean.

Some people in the neighborhood thanked us for cleaning up their river, and if felt good to help. I hope that the Sprouts can do another river clean up sometime.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sprouts of Hope Share Lessons About Composting

Celebrating School Gardens, Talking about Compost

By Risa

On Saturday, October 3rd, the Sprouts of Hope participated in the City Sprouts School Garden Celebration. The event was a little slow starting because it was raining so hard, and all of the exhibits had to be set up inside instead of outside as we’d hoped. Once the celebration got going, it was a lot fun.

We were asked to represent our school, King Open, which last year became the first school in Cambridge to do school-wide composting in the cafeteria as a part of the Department of Public Works’ Food to Flowers program. So we designed activities for kids that would educate them about composting, in general and at our school.

One activity gave kids the chance to sort what can and can't be composted. We had three colored baskets, and each of us had drawn two things – either food or utensils or other things related to eating – and we’d laminated them so kids could decide which basket to put them in. The baskets were labeled as what can be composted at home, what can be composted at school, and what can't be composted. The point of the activity was to help the kids understand what can be composted in different situations.

We also created a big bubble-lettered page for kids to color. It said:

We want composting at our school.

We're hoping they take these colorful posters to their schools and put them on the walls so that everyone there starts thinking about wanting to have composting happen at their school. The kids really enjoyed coloring, and they – and their parents – seemed enthusiastic about the idea of composting.

Dr. Jeffrey Young, who is the Superintendent of the Cambridge Public Schools, stopped by at our table. We sent him an invitation so we were really glad he decided to come. Since he’s in his first year in Cambridge, we told him in our invitation about how the Sprouts of Hope had testified at the school committee about replacing polystyrene trays because they are bad for the environment. And we let him know how talking about the trays then led to our school, King Open, becoming the pilot program for composting in school cafeterias in Cambridge. He seemed to like the idea of composting at schools in Cambridge and was glad to hear that we were making it work so well in King Open.

At one point Fred Fantini, who is a member of the Cambridge School Committee and one of the people who supports our effort to make the school cafeterias more eco-friendly, stopped by to our table. And some of the Sprouts had their picture taken with him and with Christine Ellersick, who works at the New England Roots & Shoots organization and is always ready to help us.
We also showed the kids and parents who came to visit our table where the food waste from our school's cafeteria goes to be turned into compost.

Even though it rained and we had to be inside, the City Sprouts celebration was lots of fun and we hope we convinced a lot of kids – and parents – in Cambridge to want to start doing composting at their school. For kids at King Open, it’s now just part of what we do. And that’s cool because we’re helping the earth by using our food waste to make really good soil with the things we might otherwise throw away.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Compost: From Our School Cafeteria to the Farm

Seeing How Composting Works -- Up Close and Personal

By Eliza

On a weekday afternoon in September, the Sprouts of Hope went on an exciting but smelly field trip. We travelled by car to visit the compost farm where our school's food waste goes after we sort it into barrels in our cafeteria. Meryl Brott, who works in recycling at the Department of Public Works in Cambridge and helped us get our composting program going at King Open, arranged our visit and came with us to the farm.
The compost farm is located in Hamilton, Massachusetts, which is northeast of Cambridge, and it has been running for more than 20 years. The farmer, Nate, was kind enough to give us a very detailed and informative tour of the compost farm.

Here is something new that we learned on our visit:
15 years ago, this compost farm produced 60 cubic yards of compost a year. Now, it produces 25,000 each year. We figured out that means that in 15 years there has been a 415.66 percent increase in how many cubic yards of compost are created per year!

At the farm, they use bulldozers to mix around the compost. They have a big workshop where they keep all of their diggers and materials. There are huge piles of compost outside, but there are also huge buildings filled with indoor compost. One building was entirely filled with a kind of compost called “enhanced loam,” which is a compost/topsoil mix used to grow grass. Its quality is so high that it costs $30 per cubic yard, which is really expensive! Another type of compost that the farm makes is a mixture good for gardening that they call Sweet Peet. Sweet Peet is a composted, aged horse manure similar to mulch.

We drove out in the farmer’s truck to the back part of the farm where a lot of the composting takes place. Most of the compost piles are set in windrows, which are long rows of compost that provide more air and oxygen so that the composting happens faster and the piles are less likely to catch on fire.

Nate carried a huge and very long thermometer with him and every once in a while he’d stick it in one of the piles and show us the heat being generated from the compost pile. Often the thermometer would tell us that on the inside of the pile the temperature was pretty high. [This photo shows the thermometer when it first was put into the pile, and then we'd watch the needle move as the temperature got hotter.] It’s the heat and energy generated by the composting that helps to move the process along. Sometimes we'd see steam coming out of the piles.

The compost farm staff constantly use big machines and diggers to flip the windrows. There are four or five of them next to each other, with space in between to make the flipping easier. These piles take four to five months to fully turn into nutrient rich dirt. Once the compost makes it through its last windrow, it goes into this huge green machine that does the final processing. From there, it heads up, up, up, until it gets tossed out on to the top of the pile that is the final product.

We also found some items -- a plastic shoe and a noncompostable fork -- that should not have been put into the compost stream in the first place.
The most important thing we learned, though, is how important it is to compost whatever can be composted. Before the trip, we didn't know that it costs half as much money in the long run to compost food and yard waste than to send this waste to a landfill where they will rot the “wrong” way. People are paying a lot of money to throw food and yard waste (since these are the two largest types of waste that could be composted) into landfills when they could be saving nearly twice as much money by composting them. This would turn their waste into something useful, produce really good dirt that others can use to grow things, and help to save the earth.