Sustainable Agriculture Through Home Composting

Project Overview

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2014: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Manager:
Virginia Roberts
Purdue University - Marion County Extension
Project Co-Managers:
Jeffrey Jones
Purdue Extension

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: youth education
  • Soil Management: composting
  • Sustainable Communities: urban agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Purdue Extension-Marion County will work with urban middle and high school youth who participate in Agriculture-Science school programs. Participants will learn about sustainable agriculture through the study of composting with local urban farmers, Matthew Jose-Big City Farms and Laura Henderson-Growing Places Indy. The youth will learn about composting best practices; how to use composting in their school gardens; and how to use the school lunch wastes. Local Master Gardeners will help participants create a Master Composting Workshop which the students will teach local urban gardeners/famers about replenishing and enriching the soil naturally and reducing the waste stream through composting.

    Detailed Project Plan and Timeline
    Our teaching plan for the overall theme of sustainable agriculture is composting, not on the massive “farm/ranch” based scenario but in the realistically urban “garden-based” setting, focusing on best practices of home-based composting. We will facilitate our project through local Agriculture-Science school programs, incorporating composting experiential education into their middle and high school programs over the course of 1 ½ years starting spring 2014 through the end of summer 2015. We understand that the incorporation into established school-day curriculum is at the discretion of the teacher(s) at any school sites. We will review all lesson plans to ensure the information is accurate. We will also provide assorted bulletin-type publications that largely will be used as references for “best-practices”, assuring future success plus the National 4-H Grab And Go: Composting publication and possibly incorporating the National FFA mentoring guide (PALS)/composting/Teamwork unit publication.

    We will work with local urban farmers Matthew Jose-Big City Farms and Laura Henderson-Growing Places Indy as well as local university professors to teach lessons in the classrooms. They will teach the youth about composting; the reasons behind doing composting; and its effects it will have on an urban garden/farm and the environment. Local Master Gardeners will engage the youth on creating a curriculum for a Master Composting Workshop. The youth and Master Gardeners will set up community classes to teach local residents about composting and how to use their compost in their gardens.

    In addition youth will learn composting skills through other experiences:
    * Poster making/contest in science-fair type format
    * Establish campaign to solicit needed plant material for the project, such as from individuals, food service etc.
    * Plan, organize and implement an awareness campaign similar to the reduce-reuse/recycle notion of years past such as Earth Day type of events. *
    If applicable, especially plan and implement a mentoring program to include younger youth in the experience/learning.
    * Plan, organize and implement a community awareness campaign, both micro and macro to the greater community.
    * Create educational video about what they learned which could be used for instructional videos or PSAs on social media and/or local television/cable networks.

    April-June 2014
    * Schedule speaker dates for July, 2014 - July, 2015
    * Identify sites for composting operations.
    * Order and deliver tools and supplies.
    * Construct compost apparatus.
    * Introduce participants, both adult and youth to the project parameters and define roles.
    * Set expectations for progress reports.
    * Set a plan for what goes into the unit for composting and how to begin utilizing the organic material.

    July 2014-March 2015
    * Youth participate in learning opportunities appropriate to maintaining the compost operation, participating in day-to-day operations and problem solving such as layering, turning, etc., data collection and journaling progress.

    April-September 2015
    * Youth facilitate (per site) a 3-5 min. educational video on what they have learned that may take the form of a multiple PSAs or instructional documentaries, targeted to specific audiences/demographics.
    * Youth produce and present an educational newsletter that is useful for residents who wish to compost; present at a public/group gathering the results of their work and how their perception of agricultural sustainability may have changed from the experience.
    * Students and Master Gardeners will work together to create a how-to compost information guide for central Indiana residents.
    * Submit final grant report.

    Resources Used
    We will partner with urban middle and high schools that participate in Agriculture Science school programs in the Indianapolis, IN area. We plan to reach 450 youth from these schools. We will work with local farmers including Matthew Jose-Director of Big City Farms and Laura Henderson-Executive Director of Growing Places Indy. We will also engage Marion County, IN Master Gardener volunteers and have them help within the classroom and with hands-on activities. Master Gardeners will work with the participants to create curriculum for a Master Composting Workshop. This workshop will be opened to the community to teach them how to compost for their home gardens.

    Jeff Jones-4-H Youth Development Educator and Ginny Roberts-Urban Garden Program Assistant with Purdue Extension-Marion County will implement and manage the activities of the grant. Along with Matthew Jose and Laura Henderson (mentioned above), we will have the following people as guest speakers, Tim Carter-Director of Butler University Center for Urban Ecology; Tyler Gough-Indy Urban Acres; Colleen J. McCormick-Director of the IUPUI Office of Sustainability; Amy Matthews-South Circle Farm; and local Master Gardeners.

    The following curricula, but not limited to, will be used throughout the grant period:
    • Local school agriculture and science curriculum
    • 4-H Grab and Go: Composting
    • The Ohio State University; Home Composting
    • Cornell Composting in Schools
    • National FFA PALS; Composting and teamwork
    • SARE resource information

    Students will build and manage four compost units. Students will be required to photograph, video tape, and keep a notebook of measurements, observations, and anecdotes. In September, 2015, each group of students will create a 3-5 minute video that explains the project and best practices. These videos will be presented to students at the urban middle and high schools. They will also present the videos at local Master Gardener association meetings. We will do a press release at the completion of the project. We will encourage organizations to request a student presentation. We will offer a video competition to students. The competition will give the youth the opportunity to share what they learned by creating a fun and interactive video about composting. Students will also be able to share what they learn at the June 2015 Marion County Fair through table displays and posters. In May 2014 and 2015 participating students in the Agriculture-Science classes will be released from class to complete service projects in the community. Possible opportunities include, but not limited to, are constructing one or more compost bins for a local city park, school grounds etc. or facilitate a hands-on workshop at a nearby home-improvement store which regularly hosts such events. Students and Master Gardeners will work together to create an information and how-to compost guide for central Indiana Residents. A limited number of hard copies of the guide will be made. However, the guide will be made available electronically on the Purdue Extension’s website for the public to print.

    Student and Community Impact
    We will track the number of compost guides distributed; presentations given by students; and the number of youth and adults that attended presentations. We plan to follow up with residents who take the community home composting class and see if they started composting at home as a result of taking the class.

    Students, teachers and Master Gardeners involved with the project will take pre/post-tests that will measure knowledge regarding compost importance, production and role in sustainable agriculture settings. Students will exhibit knowledge gained of at least 85% in the following:
    • learn the practice and science of composting;
    • bin construction and care; and
    • the proper use of inputs and output of the compost

    Extension and teaching staff will investigate whether there may be an FFA activity/program tie-in. An appropriate association would be investigation of the science of composting or sustainable agriculture/home gardening coming full-circle; even the instructional avenue, newsletter/flyer or video idea. To expand on the idea of community impact, other possibilities may be presentations to area civic groups and/or to the parents/siblings audience at the annual FFA recognition banquet. There will be appreciable record-keeping and data collection with this project on the part of the youth participants with a recommendation to note change over time and a journaling of observed change with their project. Other examples of record-keeping would be weight/volume of plant material introduced to the compost bin, amount and frequency of water whether manually of via nature, plus investigation of how ratios of inputs (plant material/scraps) affect the actual production of the desired product (usable/valued compost).

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.