No one knows what kind of world today’s children will inherit. Climate change is real — despite our president’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement — and it will have real, frightening impacts on our planet.
Elementary school students may not have heard of the old Earth Day saying: “Think globally, act locally.”
But they’re sure doing it.
Last August, members of Westport’s Green Task Force asked superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer if they could explore a food composting program. She loved the idea, and asked district K-5 science coordinator/Greens Farms Elementary School assistant principal Chris Breyan to serve as liaison.
Soon, GFS formed a Zero Waste Committee. Members included Breyan, several teachers (including one from Saugatuck Elementary), parents, and 3 Green Task Force representatives.
A trip to Wilton — which runs a robust composting program in every school — inspired the group. They reached out to a variety of stakeholders, like politicians, town employees, waste haulers and Chartwells, the Westport school district food service contractor.
They learned about the colossal waste of food everywhere — including their own school cafeteria. There was clearly a role for composting.
A Green Leaders Club brought students on board. Forty-six 5th graders joined — and went to work.
Since early January — to help raise awareness of both the need and process of composting — they’ve created videos and slide shows; made PSAs; devised training methods like “sorting games” for younger students, and held a poster contest.
They’ve done it on their own time too — sometimes giving up recess to work.
Greens Farms was already an environmentally aware school. There’s a garden in back, and nearly every class visits Wakeman Town Farm.
The new initiative will take the school much further. The goal is not just to compost — but ultimately have no waste at all in trash and recycling bins after every lunch.
Another prong of the campaign involves parents. They’re trying to pack “zero waste lunches,” and use reusable bottles and boxes.
“Everyone has been great,” says 5th grade teacher Stacy Fowle. She’s a member of the GFS committee, and a longtime environmental advocate.
Of course, Greens Farms is not alone. Saugatuck El teacher Ashley Moran — another committee member — already had her workshop students auditing their waste. They examined how much food was tossed out — including some that was never opened or unwrapped — and how much plastic they all used.
“There were silos of efforts around town,” Fowle says. “We want to build networks with all the schools. Things may already be happening that we don’t know about. We’re keeping meticulous notes, and taking photos and videos. We want other schools to replicate this easily.”
Long Lots has already joined the GFS effort.
The week before February break, Greens Farms launched its initiative. “Cafeteria rangers” — 3rd, 4th and 5th graders — guided classmates in sorting their waste. Parents helped younger students.
Cafeteria workers joined in. GFS is composting all waste — including food that was never even served.
The project is so big, it won’t fit in the garden. A private firm — Curbside Composting — will pick up all waste once a week.
Funds come from a Westport Public Schools Innovation Fund Grant. It runs through December.
“Everyone is so passionate about this,” Fowle says. “It’s thrilling to see all the momentum from this grassroots initiative.”
“Grassroots” is a perfect word. It means something that starts on the ground.
Composting does — literally.
And — in another sense — “grassroots” implies growth from the ground up.
Today’s Greens Farms Elementary students are tomorrow’s middle schoolers — and Stapleites. They will bring their composting mindset there.
Then they’ll grow into adults.
Sounds like they’re already shaping the world they’ll inherit.