At École Dickinsfield School in Fort McMurray, worms have chowed down on 4,000 apple cores and banana peels in the past year. The worms have turned waste that would otherwise have gone to the landfill into rich compost, and the school is now using it to grow fresh food.
“Most kids love worms. They love how they squiggle and they’re all squishy and gushy,” says École Dickinsfield Grade 3 teacher Kitty Cochrane, who is spearheading the worm composting project along with a variety of other green initiatives at the dual track French-English elementary school.
After Fort McMurray voted to ban single-use plastic bags in 2010, Cochrane applied for and received a BP A+ for Energy grant for $10,000, which École Dickinsfield School used to provide each of its 700 students with a reusable bag and help them learn about the problems caused by plastic waste.
“Our whole school has always been interested in being more green. This was something we could do to help people change their habits,” explains Cochrane, a 26-year teaching veteran who won an Excellence in Teaching Award in 2013.
As part of the school’s effort to reduce the amount of waste it produces, Cochrane and her class looked at what ended up in their garbage cans. They realized that much of it was lunch-related, with a lot of plastic. So Cochrane applied for and received another BP A+ for Energy grant for $10,000 to help the school embrace waste-free lunches, purchasing reusable lunch containers, water bottles and utensils, as well as washable cloth baggies. École Dickinsfield School also started emphasizing the importance of foods such as apples and bananas, which are not only healthy, but also come without packaging.
In just three weeks, school custodians noticed the amount of lunch waste had dropped by 70 per cent. In one year, École Dickinsfield slashed the number of garbage bags it sent to the dump by 1,200. “And that was just the lunch waste,” Cochrane says.
“That was so successful, we looked in the garbage cans again and what was left was apple cores and banana peels.”
So in 2012 École Dickinsfield began a vermicomposting (worm composting) project. With another BP A+ for Energy grant, the school bought red wriggler worms and eight “worm factories” (composting worm bins).
Under Cochrane’s direction, approximately 15 student volunteer “wormologists” in Grades 1–6 take care of the worms. The wormologists feed the worms chopped up banana peels, apple cores and other compostable lunch leftovers; they shred paper for the worms’ bedding; and they harvest the worm castings and put them out onto the school garden as compost. “They care for the worms so the worms can work for us,” Cochrane says.
It was thanks to another BP A+ for Energy grant that École Dickinsfield was able to build its garden and outdoor experimental composting area, complete with a shed and six different types of composters. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo also pitched in, building five raised garden beds for the school garden.
“We are all growing in our environmental understanding and responsibility together, and we’re helping ourselves truly get better with our ecological footprint,” Cochrane says. “We are a school that does this together. We’re teaching ourselves and our school families that with a little bit of time and a change of habits, you can have very little garbage, a whole cleaner world and some great food.”