Food Waste from Classroom to Farm

Every school day, Jenn Duncan’s fourth-grade class at Anne Wien Elementary School in Fairbanks collects food scraps from each classroom. The students weigh the scraps, record that number on a graph and store the scraps in 5 gallon buckets.

Hailey Phillips puts her classroom’s lunch food waste into a
bucket to be weighed.

At the end of the week, their teacher delivers those scraps to a local farmer who feeds the leftovers to his pigs.

“Kids are realizing that food takes a journey,” says longtime teacher Jenn Duncan.

That classroom project grew out of an energy efficiency program, presented to students by Colleen Fisk, energy education director at Renewable Energy Alaska Project. Colleen visited with students and gave them each home monitoring devices to measure their personal electric usage at their own homes.

“From that, the kids created power pledges,” Jenn says. “They are now mindful of energy use.”

Students discovered that some appliances draw a small amount of electricity if they are plugged in, even when they are not being used. They rode an energy bike and discovered it takes a lot more energy to power a regular light bulb than an energy-efficient light bulb.

“We are just creating that awareness, getting student buy-in,” Jenn says.

The monitoring devices revealed that hair dryers, on the high setting, use a tremendous amount of electricity. The 21 students tested every electrical device in the classroom and learned that white lights use more energy than colored lights. The classroom’s computer cart also uses a lot of electricity.

The class toured the Cold Climate Housing Research Center and learned
about different kinds of insulation. Their level of interest was surprising, their teacher said.

All that focus on conserving energy led to students developing a project that helped them follow the journey of food from before it reaches their plates to after the meal is done.

“It doesn’t just come from a grocery store,” Jenn points out. “It starts with farms.” Leftovers end up in the landfill. “We talked about how wasted food goes into the landfill, where it is in a huge pile of trash,” Jenn says. “We also talked about how rotting food creates a greenhouse gas called methane.”

The students brainstormed and created their own food waste program

Jenn Duncan and her fourth grade students at Anne Wien Elementary School are putting their food waste to good use by feeding it to local livestock.

“They wanted a challenge of doing something as a class,” Jenn recalls. “We’re trying to make a little impact by saving our food waste. We know we can save it, compost it or share it.”

The project began in their own classroom but soon expanded to every classroom in the school - thanks to the support of other school staff members, Jenn says.

Now, the students have it down to a daily routine and that routine has been working for the past year.

“We have a system down so it probably takes about 10 minutes from start to finish,” Jenn says. “They’ve gotten really efficient. It’s great because it is student run.”

The school has a lunch program and all the scraps come from that mid-day meal. First students scrape the scraps into a bucket. They borrow the school nurse’s scale to weigh it and record that number.

“Yesterday we had 31 pounds,” Jenn says.

Usually, the students collect about 160 pounds of foodscraps per week.

“From last year at this time to now, we have collected 4,000 pounds of food waste from our school,” she says.

Through local connections, Jenn found a pig farmer who was delighted to help with the project. Last year, he used the scraps to feed goats. This year, pigs are the beneficiaries. The goats even visited the students last year but a visit from the pigs is not too likely.

The pigs eat everything, including soup and juice.

By sorting through the trash every day, the students see how easily trash accumulates. They regularly find plastic spoons, straws, wrappers, milk cartons, fruit and vegetable skins.

“It is a smelly business,” Jenn says. “Sometimes it may smell
or look weird, but it’s a good way to get food to the pigs.”

“Of course, some lunches are easier to clean than others,” she adds. “The Nacho cheese stuff is kind of a mess. There’s a little bit more work to clean up the bowls. But most of the time, it’s pretty easy.”

Marique Wilson records the amount of food waste for the day on his classroom’s chart.

The students are learning some surprising lessons with this project too.

“One of the kids announced, ‘Wow, when I am quiet, I eat more food,’” Jenn says. “Having the awareness is a start. That’s a beginning.”

A teacher noticed that some students weren’t eating all of their applesauce. But when she gave them a straw, they slurped up every drop.

Now, when the class goes on field trips, they take their food waste container with them to save lunch scraps.

“It’s great to have this awareness of food waste,” Jenn says.

“There is so much food that gets wasted.”

The fourth-graders are planning a field trip to the landfill to see the destination of most food waste. They also will study the early side of the food journey and visit Calypso Farm and Ecology Center to learn about gardening and composting.