- Education and Training: youth education
- Soil Management: composting
- Sustainable Communities: urban agriculture
DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Purdue Extension-Marion County worked with urban middle and high school youth with the goal of providing them with an understanding of sustainable agriculture. Our teaching plan for the overall theme of sustainable agriculture was composting. Not on the massive “farm/ranch” based scenario but in the realistically urban ‘garden-based’ setting, and focused on best practices of home-based composting. We facilitated our project through Beech Grove’s Agriculture-Science school programs. The project was implemented by the 4 teachers who teach the classes. They agreed to integrate sustainable agriculture and composting education, experiments, collection of cafeteria waste and lesson plans into the school-day curriculum. Having teacher involvement was instrumental as it helped to broaden both the learning and composting experiential education on a daily basis. The youth learned about composting best practices; how to use composting in their school gardens; and how to use the school lunch wastes.
We reviewed educational material the teachers used as well at providing assorted bulletin-type publications that largely will be used as references for ‘best-practices’, assuring future success. Teachers were given the National 4-H Grab And Go: Composting, and encouraged to incorporate the National FFA mentoring guide (PALS)/composting/Teamwork unit publication.
Sustainable agriculture practices that the students learned about are:
- Water Conservation and water run-off control
- Reduce fossil-fuel energy use
- Reduce yard and garden waste in a sound way
- Plant selection and maintenance
- Garden design
Beech Grove Middle School built raised garden beds in conjunction with this grant. The students will be using the sustainable Ag practices they learned about when they garden in 2016. Examples of what they have thought about using are:
- No-till and hand pull weeds (fossil fuel usage reduction)
- Drip irrigation (conserve water and no run-off)
- Compost garden waste (useful way to dispose of plant waste)
The students built and managed four compost units – one at each school. They had originally planned on composting using open containers but the school’s principal was afraid that it would smell. So the composting was done in large, closed bins with worms. The students were then charged with maintaining the compost by participating in day-to-day operations, problem solving such as layering, turning, etc., data collection and journaling progress. The refuse used in the compost bins was collected from the cafeteria with weight and type of material recorded.
Students documented the project with photographs, measurements, observations, and anecdotes. In September, 2015, each group of students created photo documentaries that explain the project and best practices. These were presented to students at the Beech Grove Middle School. In addition, students have used the photo documentaries as PSA’s on social media.
They had hoped to do presentations in the community about how to compost but ran out of time during the school year.
The four presenters who spoke to the students provided different aspects of sustainable agriculture. The presentations were recorded and other students were offered the opportunity to watch them.
-Matthew Jose of Big City Farms discussed how he farms in polluted soils in the inner city. Because of this, he has to make and use tons of compost to remediate the soil and provide a healthy growing environment for the plants.
-Laura Henderson of Growing Places Indy discussed their no-till farms, water collection and drip irrigation. She also talked about using edible plants in the landscape.
-Tyler Gough of Indy Urban Acres talked about the reuse of everything on the land, no-till and crop rotation.
– Jessica Davis, Director Office of Sustainability IUPUI, discussed initiatives at the school that were put in place to conserve resources.
Students involved with the project took pre/post-tests that measured knowledge gained on compost importance, production and role in sustainable agriculture settings. 250 students took the tests. The scores improved from 57% average on the pre-test to 81% average on the post-test. Students exhibited gained knowledge of the following:
- learn the practice and science of composting;
- bin construction and care; and
- the proper use of inputs and outputs of the compost
- Educating youth about Sustainable Ag through composting.
- Youth provide outreach education to the community.
The steps we used that we found very effective were –
- Using students in Agriculture and Science classes
- Having teachers do the program education
- Having the project involve various disciplines (Math, Science, Spelling)
- Bringing in guest speakers with real life applications
- The youth improved on the pre- post-test.
- They were able to compost successfully in 1 year
- They provided compost to incorporate into the garden beds
- They understand what Sustainable Ag means
- The youth were very interested in the subject matter
- Their observations were very good and fun to hear
- School calendar prevented us from getting everything done
- Middle school students can be difficult to work with
See the attached video, photos and press releases.