Roots to Harvest

  • Location
    Chatsworth, Georgia
  • Status
  • Age Level
    5 to 7 Years
    8 to 10 Years
    11 to 13 Years

The Problem

The problem we want to fix is the significant amount of uneaten cafeteria food that gets thrown away each day at our school. It is estimated that around 20% of the food served in our cafeteria ends up in the trash. This food waste not only represents wasted resources and money, but also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions from landfills that accelerate climate change. At the same time, many students at our Title 1 school face food insecurity at home and lack reliable access to fresh, nutritious produce. This represents a health equity issue, as families dealing with poverty may only have the resources to purchase processed foods. Food insecurity negatively impacts a student's health, attendance, and academic performance. Our school is missing a huge opportunity to turn our cafeteria food waste into a resource that can nourish our community. We can achieve multiple benefits - reducing waste, providing nourishment, saving school resources, and enabling hands-on sustainability education - by diverting food scraps to an on-site garden. Students can be empowered to grow fresh fruits and vegetables that supplement the food insecure families in our school community. This project addresses the intersection of these two critical issues facing our school.

Our Plan

The action we are planning is to create an on-site garden at our school where cafeteria food waste will be composted and used to grow fresh fruits and vegetables. We will install raised garden beds near the cafeteria where students can easily transport bucket of food waste. Garden beds will be built using upcycled materials when possible. Our student group will lead each phase of the project, including: -Designing and constructing the raised garden beds -Setting up a multi-bin composting system for the cafeteria food waste -Researching what fruits and vegetables grow best in our climate -Planting and maintaining the garden beds using organic methods -Harvesting the produce at peak ripeness -Donating a substantial portion of harvested produce to the local food bank In addition, we will integrate the garden into the curriculum for all grades. Students can conduct field observations of the garden ecosystems, study soil science and the composting process, track garden growth data, research nutritional content of garden produce, and learn about issues like food waste, food access, and sustainability. Our project will convert cafeteria food waste into nourishment for our community while providing hands-on learning opportunities about gardening, nutrition, and environmental stewardship. We aim to develop a sustainable model that can inspire other schools to implement similar projects.

Themes Addressed

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    Food Insecurity
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The Benefit

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Here is how the project went:

Our Roots & Shoots project, aimed to transform cafeteria food waste into fresh produce for families facing food insecurity in our school community. As a diverse group of 4th-6th graders at a Title 1 school, we were shocked to discover that 20% of the food served in our cafeteria ends up in the trash each day. At the same time, many of our classmates lack access to nutritious fruits and vegetables at home. We decided to take action to address both of these interconnected issues. Our primary goals are 1) to reduce cafeteria food waste through composting, 2) to grow healthy produce for food insecure families, and 3) to provide hands-on sustainability education for students across all grades. First, we designed and are still in the process of building raised garden beds near the cafeteria using upcycled materials. Next, we set up a multi-bin composting system and arranged for student "compost monitors" to collect food waste from the cafeteria after each lunch period. We used the Roots & Shoots grant funds to purchase garden supplies like seeds, seedlings, organic fertilizer, tools, and other garden materials. Although we didn't get to plant a variety of fruits and vegetables well-suited to our region, we began tending to the garden beds daily. Our goal for next year is, as the produce ripens, harvest it and distribute it to families identified as food insecure. Surplus produce will be donated to the local food bank. The garden has begun to be integrated into classroom curriculum, with students conducting hands-on learning activities. We have engaged the entire school community in the project, with volunteers from all grades helping during weekend garden work days. So far, the project has diverted hundreds of pounds of food waste from the landfill, provided fresh produce to dozens of families, and empowered students with knowledge and skills for sustainable living. We hope our project inspires other schools to see cafeteria food waste as a resource for nourishing communities.

Through this project I/we learned:

This was a great starter year for the grant we received. We were able to get the foundation laid so that we can begin gaining ground at the beginning of the next school year.

What I/we might change:

We would be more specific in what all we feel like we could actually accomplish in a single year with a small group.

My/our favorite part of this project was:

Learning about ways to incorporate all the grade levels into our composting journey.

Some tips, tricks or fun facts about the project:

It's ok to start small and work up to where you can be successful. Any start is a good start in making a life long change.

About Roots & Shoots

We are nurturing the compassionate leaders of tomorrow.

Get To Know Our Model

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