Kindergarten students at Frank J Mitchell Elementary School in Sparwood show off their new garbage bins which they use to collect organic waste from every classroom in the school. Several grades are involved in this school-wide food waste program, which also benefits local farms. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

Sparwood elementary school reduces food waste

Dressed in bright red overalls and armed with rubber gloves and plastic bins, a group of determined students sets off down the halls at Frank J Mitchell Elementary School in Sparwood.

Down the hallways they weave like working ants, quickly stopping in every room before moving to the next.

The students have embraced a new way of throwing out their trash in an effort to reduce the amount of food that reaches the landfill.

The school has been carefully separating its garbage for collection under their new program, Food 2 Farms, which passes on organic waste to farms for them to use as animal feed. The program is currently in its fourth week and involves students of all ages.

“We started with thinking about how we could compost food waste in ways that weren’t labour intensive for kids,” said FJMES Kindergarten teacher Mardelle Sauerborn.

“We ended up with this farm project that just has so much potential.”

Shortly after a teacher inquired as to whether there was any leftover food she could feed to her horses, the school adopted Food 2 Farms as a regular initiative.

This is just one part of a larger program, the Frank J Farm Project, which involves the students receiving education at the community farms.

There, they learn about livestock, bee hives, horses, chickens, gardening, greenhouses, and more. Students have learned about the operational side of a farm and what it takes to not only run a successful operation, but also maintain it through in-house repairs.

From the farm project, the school was also able to expand into another initiative, which included incubators and a bee observatory.

“Farms are just these really multi-faceted places now that are excellent to connect kids to,” said Sauerborn.

“We are so lucky to have these farms in place.”

In the past, the school has tried composting but found it to be problematic as it is hard to sustain and serves as an attractant for wild animals.

This year, the school collaborated with two Sparwood farms, who were grateful for the extra grains during the winter. On top of reducing food waste, the school is thankful for the educational opportunities that have stemmed from this initiative.

The program is being spearheaded by teachers of four classes: Mardelle Sauerborn, kindergarten, Rita Storey, grade five Sheila Podrasky, grade two, and Holly Peebles.

The teachers extended their gratitude to the FJMES Admin group, who they say have been very supportive of the project. Additionally, the program is being supported by several farm families.

In speaking of their reduction in food waste, Sauerborn commended the other programs in place in the Elk Valley, including the Fernie and Sparwood food shares, which all have similar goals.

Two days after the launch of the new program, a student raised a larger question: Whose responsibility is food waste?

“One of the boys said ‘I guess we should probably get the town to come to us and pick up the food, and take it to the farms, because we’re going to end up with too much for us.’ And he’s right,” said Sauerborn.

“This is an amazing project, this grows kid’s connections to their community, this has deeply embedded curriculum connections; this is good work for kids to do. But the reality is, is it the responsibility of eight year olds to take care of the waste issues at their schools? Or is that a district, or a regional, or a provincial or national conversation?” said Sauerborn.

Farmers interested in becoming a part of the program can contact Mardelle at Mardelle.Sauerborn@sd5.bc.ca.

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