Mount Abe raising funds to build a new composter

BRISTOL — Students at Mount Abraham Union High School are raising funds for a composting system at the school that will allow cafeteria food waste to be used for the school’s community garden.
The new composting system — which student organizers hope to have in place as soon as later this summer — will mean the school will send less solid waste to landfills, and that food waste can instead nourish the 600 pounds of vegetables Mount Abe’s garden produces annually.
The students involved are part of the school’s Environmental Action Group, an organization of about 30 students from the middle and high school. The club, advised by teacher Caroline Camara, has existed since 2006, when Mount Abe participants in the Vermont Envirothon wanted to meet on a regular basis.
Addy Campbell, who was a member of the Environmental Action Group until she graduated from Mount Abe last month, said the goal of the club is to create an environmental consciousness among the school’s students.
“Our general mission is we want to promote environmental mindfulness and sustainability at the school,” Campbell said.
She said the compost facility project is the culmination of work the club has done for years, and was inspired by a similar one at Ferrisburgh Central School.
But before they could build a composting facility, Campbell said, the club needed to educate their fellow students about the practice.
“We realized we needed to install the cultural shift within the student body first,” she said.
Vermont’s Act 148, which passed in 2012, also spurred the creation of on-site composting.
“The passage of Act 148, which will mandate universal recycling in our state and make sending food scraps to the landfill illegal, only further propelled this project forward,” Campbell said. “In building an onsite composting system, we hope to serve as both a model for and an educator of the greater community.”
In other recent projects, the club recently worked with Addison Northeast Supervisory Union food service manager Kathy Alexander to reduce the number of plastic water bottles used in the school. The club helped install two water bottle refill stations in the school and also sold metal water bottles. The Addison County Solid Waste Management District also donated recycling bins to the school, and the club made posters detailing what could be placed in them.
For the past two years, the club has focused on decreasing the amount of food waste the school ships to landfills. Students collected compostable waste in plastic buckets every lunch period.
“Some of us wore rubber gloves and picked through the trash for stuff that hadn’t been sorted properly,” Campbell said.
Since the school doesn’t yet have its own composting system, teachers and parents have been taking the food scraps home to use in their farms and gardens. Campbell says onsite composting will allow the school to close its sustainability loop — the waste from the cafeteria will nourish the school’s garden.
“Right now the garden has to buy compost because we can’t produce our own,” Campbell said. “That seems silly because we can have the capacity to make our own.”
The group has worked with ANeSU Facilities Director Alden Harwood and environmental science teacher Dave Hamilton to design the composter.
The cost of the project is around $8,000. The club has already received two $2,000 grants from the Vermont Community Foundation and New England Grassroots Environmental Fund. Campbell said her classmate Izzy Moody, who will be a senior next year, was instrumental in securing the grant funding.
Camara said although she is the club’s adviser, it is entirely run by students. She credited Campbell, Moody, Hannah Funk and Eliza Letourneau for their work with the compost facility project.
 “They’ve just taken the bull by the horns,” Camara said. “They’ve become master grant writers. It’s really quite incredible.”
To raise the remaining money, the club is using the crowd-funding website Indiegogo. So far, it has raised $1,430 from 37 donors, with a goal of raising $4,000. The fundraising window closes July 20. The nonprofit Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN) is accepting donations on behalf of the club.
Camara said the club is currently applying for a $2,000 grant from the county waste management district, which would greatly help them reach their goal. If they do, they plan to construct the composting facility in August.

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