The Garbage to Garden Project: Providing Composting Services and Education

Project Overview

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2017: $1,320.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District (JCSWCD)
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Manager:
Kathy Haste
Johnson County Soil & Water Conservation District


Not commodity specific


  • Soil Management: composting
  • Sustainable Communities: community services

    Proposal abstract:

    Project Abstract

    By teaching children about composting, and providing Johnson County families with a composting service, the JCSWCD and partners can help transition waste from the garbage to the garden. The JCSWCD will educate elementary students through classroom visits and a family-oriented workshop to recruit compost service participants. We will provide 15 families with a composting service and collect their compostable waste for three months. We will partner with Johnson County Park to compost the waste. A follow up event at the park will introduce children to nut and fruit tree farming as well and the application of compost for soil health.

    Detailed Project Plan and Timeline

    Johnson County’s population is expected to grow by more than 40% between 2010 and 2051. This will drastically increase the amount of landfill waste, which requires valuable land resources to be sacrificed for disposal. To combat this challenge, the JCSWCD will introduce the practice of composting and its benefits to youth through classroom presentations, two educational events, and a composting service for households in Franklin, IN. Combining the educational component with the extended practice at home will improve the likelihood of students composting beyond their participation in The Garbage to Garden Project.

    The JCSWCD Education Coordinator will use compost as an archetype of sustainability to educate students in classrooms. She will teach students how compost encapsulates the three pillars of sustainability because it (1) improves soil health, the foundation of strong ecological systems, (2) is the socially responsible way to handle waste for ourselves and future generations, and (3) provides benefits to soil health that improve farming outputs while protecting farmers from drought at a minimal cost.

    Classroom presentations specifically include:

    1. Defining compost and sustainability

    2. Identifying compostable material using life-like “waste”

    3. Understanding healthy soil and why it’s disappearing

    4. How composting improves soil and its role in nutrient cycling

    5. Delivery of compost service applications to take home

    An event will be held at Johnson County Park with presentations from Scott Wagner P.E, NRCS Agricultural Engineer, and Tony Branam, NRCS District Conservationist. This event is meant to attract students of all ages who did not see the presentation in class, and provide follow up for students whose interest was struck in a classroom presentation. The presenters will educate both kids and parents on the following:

    1. Compostable materials

    2. The environmental benefits of composting

    3. The need for composting waste

    There will be multiple activities (e.g. slake test, waste sorting games) to engage the children in this educational event. The parents will learn through presentations and engagement with their child.

    After this event, families can apply to be a part of the Johnson County composting service. While the events will be open to all families in Johnson County, the 15 families chosen to receive compost pickup service must live in Franklin, IN. Pickup will be every Friday from May 19th through August 4th.

    Each family will be given a 5 gallon bucket to begin, and will be left a clean bucket weekly upon pickup. The waste will be taken straight to Johnson County Park each Friday, where it will be composted with the park’s yard waste and buckets will be cleaned. Families outside of Franklin are welcome to deliver their compost to the park on Fridays.

    A first batch of compost will be ready by mid-August. Upon which a follow up event at Johnson County Park will be held with the SWCD staff and Indiana Nut and Fruit Tree Growers Association (INFGA). This event will highlight how to begin a compost pile, compost’s benefits for tree growth and soil health, and how to properly plant a nut and fruit tree. The planting will be led by two of INFGA’s nut tree growers, and the trees will be planted in the nut and fruit tree grove at Johnson County Park, which is a freely accessible resource. The compost produced from the service will be used at the planting site.

    In closing, the program should benefit over 100 students through classroom presentations and youth workshops. The program will also provide an enriching opportunity for 15 families to engage in soil conservation at home through the composting service. Finally, the compost produced will replenish the significantly degraded soil at the Johnson County Park INFGA fruit and nut tree grove. This program will determine the possibility for a future, larger composting service provided by the JCSWCD.


    September-March 2016: Schedule classroom presentations

    March 2017: Begin publicizing service and events
    Begin working with Johnson County Park to collect supplemental Carbon sources

    April 29, 2017: First event at Johnson County Park. Composting 101
    Presenters: Scott Wagner and Tony Branam

    May 6, 2017: Complete classroom presentations

    May 8, 2017: Compost service application due

    May 10-12, 2017: Notify participating applicants and distribute buckets

    May 19, 2017: First participant compost pick-up and drop off at Johnson County Park

    May –August 4, 2017: Continue weekly Friday pick-ups and manage compost piles

    August 19, 2017: Planting and final event at Johnson County Park Guest Presenters: John Harrell and Jim McKenna, INFGA

    1. Kinghorn, M. (2012). Indiana's Population Projections, 2010 to 2050. Retrieved October 17, 2016, from

    Resources Used

    Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District (JCSWCD): The JCSWCD’s Education Coordinator, Alley Muir, and Agriculture Technician, Brandon Swihart, will be responsible for giving classroom presentations, collecting and delivering weekly compost buckets, and maintaining the compost piles at Johnson County Park. The JCSWCD staff and board will have input on planning the events, and Board members able to attend event will do so. The SWCD staff will coordinate the April 29th and August 19th event.

    Johnson County Purdue Extension: Sarah Hanson at Purdue Extension in Johnson County will help publicize both events and the composting service. This includes contacting the Master Gardeners of Johnson County.

    Johnson County Parks and Recreation Department: Will supply location for composting to take place and locations for the April 29th and August 19th educational events.

    Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS): Provide two representatives (Scott Wagner and Tony Branam) for the April 29th event.

    IN Fruit and Nut Tree Growers Association (INFGA): Provide two representatives (John Harrell and John McKenna) for the August 19th event.

    Do the Rot Thing: A Teacher’s Guide to Composting Activities: This activity book will be used to engage elementary ages students in composting education in the classroom and at the educational events.

    Bartholomew, Brown, and Morgan Counties SWCD: These counties’ SWCD office will publicize the events at Johnson County Park. Although the residents of these counties are not eligible for the service, they can still benefit from attending the educational events.

    The Johnson County Solid Waste District: This office will publicize the events and service at their office and using social media.

    Shannon Witte, Greenwood Christian Academy- Grade 4, 51 students Contact:

    Kelly Staten, Johnson Co. Public Library-Adult and Teen Services Librarian, planned event for April


    The JCSWCD will utilize our blog, Twitter, Facebook, Newsletter, and Instagram to publicize the success and lessons learned from this program. Our partners at neighboring SWCDs, the Johnson County Parks and Recreation Department, Purdue Extension, and the Johnson County Solid Waste District will learn from this project and also publicize the project on their social media outlets.

    Additionally, the JCSWCD will photograph and film each step of project to create a video to be shared on social media, YouTube, and our website. This will allow us to share the success with organizations, teachers, and county commissioners to reiterate the importance of natural resource conservation education and curriculum. For example, we will share the video with the Education Connection, a non-profit in Franklin, IN that supports teachers to implement hands-on projects and has an established rapport with the School District. The completed video will be directly sent to their Director, Chelsi Harper, with the intention of encouraging Education Connection to recommend our educational services in Franklin.

    Finally, we will share what we’ve learned with other SWCDs at the 2017 regional meeting hosted in our District.

    Student and Community Impact

    The type of project has yet to be undertaken by the county. The hands-on classroom program will teach students why our topsoil is disappearing, what soil health is, and how we can manage it sustainably. Students whose family utilizes the composting service will be enriched by composting at home for three months. The goal is to instill the practice of composting in children at an early age, with the hope it will become a routine part of their lives.

    The educational events will also provide an unprecedented opportunity for youth to see the impacts of poor soil at Johnson County Park’s nut and fruit tree grove, learn how soil health can be improved with composting, and engage with conservation professionals to better understand the significance of soil conservation.

    Finally, the success of this project will influence the possibility of continuing this service for the Johnson County community in the future. The impact of such a service could be instrumental in teaching more students about sustainable agriculture and helping Johnson County grow sustainably.

    The success of the program will be measured with the following indicators:

    1. The number of students taught through classroom presentations

    2. Pre and Post surveys given to students before and after classroom presentations

    3. The number of workshop attendees

    4. October follow up surveys to determine independent composting implementation with willing parental workshop attendees (via

    5. The number of families applying for and enrolled in the compost service from April to August

    6. The number of views, clicks, or likes on Facebook, blog, and Instagram posts related to the project

    7. Willingness to pay (WTP) surveys for participants about compost service and resulting compost product

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Engage over 100 students with the benefits of composting through classroom presentations and youth workshops.
    2. Provide an enriching opportunity for 15 families to engage in soil conservation at home through a composting service.

    3. Replenish the significantly degraded soil at the Johnson County Park INFGA fruit and nut tree grove through composting and determine the possibility for a future, larger composting service provided by the JCSWCD.
    4. Share program results with a wider audience through social media posts such as videos and photos and at the regional meeting for Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
    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.