Feeding the Needs: Waste Not, Want Not

Schools compost for ‘Garbage to Gardens’

Food Mallory 1

When it comes to filling plates, these area women are tackling the issues.

From increasing access to fresh produce to reducing food waste, here are some of the groups – and their leaders – tackling local food systems to make them more bountiful for all.

CIERRA WASHINGTON is striving to eliminate the food desert in Wilmington’s Northside. JORDYN APPEL-HUGHES is strengthening the region’s food infrastructure.  And MALLORY WEEKS is helping students learn how to turn waste into compost and conserve resources.

  • Breaking Bread: Click here to read more on the latest on the Northside Food Co-op effort
  • Growth Market: Read more on Feast Down East grows fresh food access here.
  • Waste Not, Want Not: To learn more about elementary school teacher, Mallory Weeks, read below.

Food Mallory 2

Winter Park Elementary School students explore the healthiness of different soils as part of the Garbage to Gardens program. (photo c/o Kat Polk)

For Winter Park Elementary School teacher MALLORY WEEKS, nothing compares to seeing her students light up when they master a new skill or concept. But seeing them get excited about waste diversion, composting, and growing food runs a close second.

To help students at Winter Park and throughout the county learn the importance of turning waste into a useful commodity, the fourth-grade teacher chose Garbage to Gardens as the focus of her Emerging Leaders program. Through Garbage to Gardens, cafeteria waste streams are used for composting and recycling rather than deposited in New Hanover County’s landfill.

“Composting and waste diversion is a passion of mine and partnering with Garbage to Gardens is a great opportunity to get students involved,” Weeks says. “If you explain to kids the value and benefits of composting, they hop on board.”

Since taking over Winter Park’s Garbage to Gardens program, Meeks has convinced school staff to make the program a daily occurrence instead of a one-day-a-week event. By placing liquid, food, and recyclable items into the appropriate bins that are then turned into compost, Winter Park has drastically cut waste.

“In a typical day we made ten large trash bags worth of trash,” Weeks explains. “On days that we collected waste just from the cafeteria, we filled less than one trash can. We had 90 percent less waste.”

Meeks has taken several additional steps to expand Garbage to Gardens. She worked with school staff to turn some of the school’s compost into a vegetable garden, and she persuaded more than half the school’s teachers to place composting buckets in their classrooms for waste from breakfast and snacks.

Meeks also helped develop an environmental education curriculum.

“Garbage to Gardens is a hard sell because teachers don’t have a lot of time to put into it,” Meeks says. “The curriculum includes activities teachers can get on board with. We are tying the program into literacy as a way to get teachers connected to it.”

Though D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy joined Garbage to Gardens in 2021, Meeks is anxious to see more schools adopt the program. She hopes to add interest by presenting information about Winter Park’s program to county and state stakeholders and by working with North Carolina’s local and state Composting Council.

“I am doing my part to help with trash diversion,” Weeks says. “I have a good way to spread the importance of converting waste to future New Hanover County residents.”

To view more of photographer Allison Joyce’s work, go to allisonjoyce.com.

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Categories: Features