Excellence in Education’s Thanks for Giving: Truckee Elementary School worm composting

Ann Lindemann
Special to the Sun
Amy Edgett/Sierra SunTruckee Elementary Students file past the recycle area, dumping organic matter into tubs to feed the school's worms.

TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; Students at Truckee Elementary now think twice before chucking their apple cores and peanut butter and jelly crusts, thanks to a worm composting program funded by a Tahoe Truckee Excellence in Education grant.

Longtime Truckee Elementary teacher Tamara Anderson is the mastermind behind this school-wide green initiative, which is not only educational, but also reduces the school districtand#8217;s annual trash bill.

and#8220;Iand#8217;ve had a composting bin in my classroom for the last 15 years,and#8221; explains Anderson. and#8220;The volume of waste that has to be transported out of the Tahoe Basin is incredible. Iand#8217;ve always wanted to do something on a larger scale and#8230; really make a difference.and#8221;

Last year Anderson touched base with Reno-based Full Circle Compost to find out more about vermicomposting, which puts millions of red worms to work decomposing food waste. Armed with pertinent facts and figures, Anderson applied for a Tahoe Truckee Excellence in Education grant to purchase 10 Can-O-Worm units full of hungry red worms.

and#8220;This is just the kind of creative problem-solving project that the Foundation loves to fund,and#8221; said President Ann Delforge. and#8220;We especially liked that there were environmental, educational and cost-saving components.and#8221;

Anderson said the multi-layered black plastic full-service worm hotels are just part of the composting puzzle. Much of the preliminary work is done by the students in the Truckee Elementary School cafeteria. Once theyand#8217;ve demolished their lunches, kids head to the recycling area. First they throw their plastic recyclables in a blue-bagged trash can, next they toss their non-recyclables (soiled potato chip bags, etc.) into another trash can, and then, finally, dump their leftover edibles (nothing too salty and no meat) into and#8216;bus tubs.and#8217;

After the kids flee the cafeteria, Anderson and her parent volunteers carry the tubs to a small utility room, which is prime real estate for the 10 Can-O-Worm units.

and#8220;But we canand#8217;t just dump the whole food into these bins,and#8221; says Anderson. and#8220;We take all the food and put it into a food processor that makes it into a kind of worm baby food.and#8221;

The goop is layered into the bin and the hungry worm workforce gets busy. The worms eat on one level and live on another. They leave behind a biodegradable soil product and and#8220;worm teaand#8221; (derived from the worm castings) that will be used to fertilize the elementary schooland#8217;s lawn and garden in the spring.

While the benefits of the spring fertilizer product may be months away, the financial and environmental benefits are already evident.

and#8220;We went from five trash cans a day to two-and-a-half to three trash cans a day,and#8221; Anderson notes. and#8220;This represents a 40 to 50 percent reduction in the waste stream and#8230; itand#8217;s also a great financial savings for the school district. We couldnand#8217;t have done this without the Excellence in Education grant.and#8221;

The Tahoe Truckee Excellence in Education Foundation is a private, nonprofit organization that supports quality public education within the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. Each year the Foundation raises money and provides grants, resources and partnerships to benefit students, teachers and the educational community as a whole.

During this season of gratitude, the Foundation is reaching out to the community with the Thanks For Giving campaign slated through Nov. 20. Teachers, TTUSD staffers and parents can look for convenient donation boxes at school sites, while others can offer their financial thanks online or call 530-550-7984.

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