Bay View School Diverts Cafeteria Food to Create Soil

Feb 28, 2017

The students at Fernwood Montessori, an MPS school in Bay View, already raise perch and grow vegetables, so to add composting seemed like a no brainer.

At lunchtime, the kids dutifully line up to toss their leftovers into the proper bin. Even the partitioned trays are biodegradable.

Fernwood teacher Matt Ray and Compost Crusader Melissa Tashjian
Credit Susan Bence

Melissa Tashjian beams. She’s founder of Compost Crusader. Her garbage truck hauls the school’s food waste to a processor -- as much as 300 pounds each week.

This system is a composter’s dream.

“So the kids just stack the trays and then take it right out to the dumpster and put them right into the compost dumpster,” Tashjian says.

Fernwood teacher Matt Ray says even their youngest students are learning to compost.

But other things related happen in the classrooms. Seventh grader Ben says his class just completed deep dive into the subject of recycling food.

“We first calculated the perfect compost – the right amount of nitrogen and the right amount of carbon,” he says.

Classmate Drew says each student also wrote a persuasive essay on the subject and designed a compost bin. “My design was a barrel that you could rotate by using a handle and it had a hatch on top where you could put water in it, also to expose to it and it had vents, also to expose air to it,” he explains.

Every Fernwood classroom has its own compost caddy – for the occasional banana peel or apple core. 7th grader Izzy says it gives them a chance to teach little kids a thing or two.

Kindergartener arrives to be escorted by 7th grader to compost her classroom's compostables.
Credit Susan Bence

“There’s a kindergarten class down the hall. The teacher there has one of her students bring the compost bag here so one of the adolescents here can take ours and theirs to the trash bag outside and then they don’t have to go without supervision,” Izzy says.

Teacher Matt Ray says when he learned that MPS was looking into recycling milk carton at its schools, his wheels started turning. If Fernwood was going to recycle milk containers, why not go all the way.

“And it all happened within a matter of a few weeks,” Ray says.

A local company provided color-coded cafeteria bins – black for landfill, blue for recycling and green for compost.

“The district was like, hey, this is great. We really want to take a look at how we handle our waste. We got our receptacles donated. Mel’s got the truck and the dumpsters are getting welded up,” he says.

Ray's talking about Melissa Tashjian’s Compost Crusader business. “We’re willing to do pick up….so we’ll take it off your hands and we can compost cooked meat, dairy, breads, pasta. Anything that comes out of your cafeteria for the most part, we can compost that as well,” Tashjian says.

By The Way: Tashjian Also Helped Make Milwaukee's Home Compost Pick-Up Pilot Happen

She hopes the arrangement with Fernwood is just the beginning of a fruitful relationship with schools.