HOPKINS, S.C. – Officials at South Carolina’s Lower Richland High School have found an audience that loves Michelle Obama’s healthy lunches: worms.
A new program at the school recycles the district’s lunch leftovers to create compost that’s used to grow produce for the culinary program. Leftover food is hauled to a 2,200-pound food dehydrator where it’s dried to create coffee-like material that’s fed to red worms in vermiculite pods, ColaDaily.com reports.
The worms break down the dehydrated food waste to produce worm castings, a vital ingredient in quality compost. That compost is used for the school’s solar-powered greenhouse to grow vegetables, and flowers for school fundraisers, according to the news site.
The 30-panel solar array that powers the greenhouse was paid for in part with a $25,000 from the local Palmetto Energy. The rest of the $142,361 “LifeCycle Innovation Project” came from “a number of partnership grants.” The school worked with the public-private collaboration firm EngenuitySC to organize the project.
The Free-Times reports the district choose the program because it “was looking to use federal grant money to create a project that would directly link to its STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) program…”
In other words, the district receives federal grant money for the National School Lunch Program to provide meals to students, who are generating quite a bit of waste, presumably from the government-mandated daily fruit and vegetable. And then the school receives another federal grant to recycle that waste into different produce for the culinary program.
Carroll Kelley supervises the program Lower Richland High School and students there produce about 200 pounds of organic waste per week, WALB reports.
About 20 to 40 pounds of usable waste is collected each day, run through the food dehydrator and fed to worms, which breaks down to about 10 to 20 pounds of compost, the Free-Times reports.
Overall, the project has reduced school food waste by roughly 50 to 70 percent.
“Everyday, the cafeteria was throwing away food in the past that wasn’t eaten or served,” Kelley told WALB. “So, now we put the food in the food dryer.”
Student project supervisor Nazaire Bethea said the waste is significant.
“All the food waste we’ve had, we’ve saved so much from it,” Bethea said. “We’re doing something productive with it.”
Across the country school districts are struggling with increased food waste associated with national school food restrictions led by first lady Michelle Obama. Students are required to take a fruit or vegetable, and are limited on calories, fat, sugar, sodium and other nutritional elements. The situation is now creating about $1 billion in school food waste annually as student simply dump their greens in the garbage.
Essentially, the LifeCycle takes a bad situation and turns it positive.
Principal Kelvin Wymbs pointed out it’s also recruiting a broader array of students to STEM subjects.
”Our LifeCycle program has a lot of kids you wouldn’t typically see in the STEM program,” Wymbs told WALB. “Not only are they getting a hands-on look at global learning but they’re also building up their esteem across campus.”