Since January, the Truman Compost Project has worked with students at Ray Miller Elementary to collect food scraps from the school. The materials are used at Truman’s University Farm to create finished compost, which in turn is donated back to Ray Miller Elementary for use in the school’s Outdoor Garden Classroom. The idea to expand the Truman Compost Project originated with Michael Seipel, chair of the Agricultural Science Department.
“I am passionate about reducing food waste,” Seipel said. “I thought that expanding the Truman Compost Project to include Kirksville public schools could help educate the community about the importance of reducing food waste through educating the community’s youth about food waste and composting.”
The partnership had been in the works since February 2020, but was put on hold at the onset of the pandemic. It was rekindled last fall when Tiffany Miller, the garden educator at Ray Miller Elementary, reached out to the Agricultural Science Department for some finished compost for the school’s garden in the fall. Representatives from both schools worked together to implement the program in January 2022.
Kelli Hunsicker, the outdoor education coordinator and a fifth grade teacher, hopes participating in the program will show Ray Miller students how they can limit their food waste by reusing it to help nourish new plants and vegetables.
“The best thing about our outdoor education program is that students get a new experience learning to grow their own food,” Hunsicker said. “Now that we have added the compost project, they can see the process of reusing our food to break down and make compost that will go back into the garden to grow new food.”
At the end of their lunch shift, children at Ray Miller Elementary separate compostable food scraps, napkins and paper towels from non-compostable trash. Twice a week Truman students visit the school to help with the process and pick up materials.
“The students were really excited when Mrs. Tiffany explained the project to them. They couldn’t wait to get started,” Hunsicker said. “It has been helpful that Truman students have been able to be here during lunch a few days a week to help students sort their lunch trays. Students are always willing to help other students figure out what needs to go where.”
Ray Miller Elementary will ultimately use the finished product in its Outdoor Garden Classroom, which grows different fruits and vegetables for use at the school. The district has a similar program at the primary school that might eventually join the collaboration.
“This is meant to be an ongoing partnership,” Seipel said. “If it is successful, and if the Compost Project has enough student labor and resources, we would like to expand it to other buildings in the Kirksville R-III District.”
Since its inception in 2004, the Truman Compost Project primarily collects food scraps from the campus dining halls and Student Union Building. The project also partners with Rot Riders, a student organization that offers to pick up food scraps from Kirksville residents for composting. A pre-pandemic student research project estimated the Truman Compost Project collected approximately 142,000 pounds of food scraps during the 2018 academic year. More information about the Truman Compost Project, including ways to get involved, can be found at compost.truman.edu.