Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology William Hope and Director of Campus Sustainability Deborah Steinberg installed two new compost bins to help ‘close the loop’ at the Knox Farm and provide students with more experiential learning opportunities.
The idea to build the new compost bins started when Hope took a personal interest in the science behind composting, and Steinberg realized composting would enable the Knox Farm to return nutrients from leaves, produce and weeds they usually dispose of along with leaves and organic material facility services collects.
Hope said the compost bins will allow the Farm to take what would normally become waste and return it to land as a nutrient-rich soil additive.
“‘How can we treat waste as a resource?’ is a fundamental question,” Hope said.
Hope and Steinberg expect the bins to provide some experiential learning opportunities for students as well as volunteers on the Knox Farm. Already, an urban agriculture course Steinberg is teaching helped build one of the bins.
Hope briefed the students on the uses of the bins, the materials they were made of and the results the bins will eventually produce. Hope experimented with designs for the bins at his home. He told the students these simple bins could be made cheaply using wooden pallets.
The bins are made from cedar wood and chicken wire. Each unit has two compartments and can therefore produce two batches of compost at once. Hope said each bin can hold roughly 48 cubic feet of compost.
“The bins that we have are kind of an in-between,” Steinberg said. “It’s not the cheapest, scrappy version of it, you know you can do it very simply, but it also wasn’t this super over-engineered thing.”
In the future, Steinberg plans to work with faculty to create more experiential learning opportunities from chemically analyzing the contents and nutrients in the soil to being responsible for a batch of compost from beginning to end.
Steinberg and Hope plan on launching more experiential learning opportunities in Winter and Spring Terms. For now, their focus is on perfecting their compost recipe and designing a plan to maintain it.
Steinberg said past attempts at composting on campus have been largely unsuccessful because students weren’t sure what would be put in bins and there was no set plan to maintain them. As a result, materials that couldn’t decompose were sitting in bins, and the results were unusable.
Hope and Steinberg say that composting batches need the right mixture of brown material like leaves, green material like produce and moisture, to be successful. Hope has not yet decided on the perfect mixture.
Hope is also playing with the temperatures at which the batches will decompose and how often batches need to be turned over. Once Hope finalizes these plans, the bins will be ready for use.
Steinberg and Hope have installed locks on the new bins and plan to carefully educate students and volunteers who work with the bins the proper way to use them. This way, they can monitor what is going into the bins and make sure the batches are properly cared for.
Steinberg urged students interested in composting who will not be able to use the bins on the Knox Farm to find a composting tumbler. There are several around campus available for use by the student body. Vegetables, fruits, teabags and coffee grounds can be put into these containers.