Lisa Bjerke started composting at COA as a first-year student.Lisa Bjerke started composting at COA as a first-year student.

College of the Atlantic is known for its commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. One example is that COA maintains a composting system to offset the amount of food waste produced by the community and turn it into nutrients for the many gardens on the COA campus. However, as Lisa Bjerke’s ’13 pointed out in her senior project, the college’s composting system has a long way to go to be fully functioning.

Lisa’s project highlighted the history the school’s had with composting. There’s never been a committee dedicated to handling the compost, and there’s a huge discord between the general student population and the composting mechanism on campus. Sensing the problems with this, faculty member Suzanne Morse set out to connect the community and the compost.

This spring, Morse offered a course entitled Composting: From Waste Management to Resource Creation. The class focuses largely on the science of composting and soil, but there is also an emphasis on the practical aspect of what we consider waste and how to change the community’s perception.

Our first assignment was to read through Lisa’s senior project, which extensively covered successes and shortcomings with regards to composting on campus. Lisa pointed out that one of the largest problems is that people tend to view composting as handling waste rather than an opportunity to give back to the soil.

Classes were mainly discussion-based but also involve field work in the composting area. Classes instruction focuses on soil production, compost “recipes”, different systems such as worms, lectures on different parts of soil and compost, and actual hands-on work getting dirty in the compost pile.

For the final project, the class is doing different activities to improve the composting system here. Some students are working on the educational aspect and how composting could be incorporated in the curriculum. Other students are working on material resources and issues with spacing; others on pest control. The idea is to make a wholly better system by targeting smaller pieces.

The composting system at COA is a benefit and it’s great that it’s in place, but with such a disconnect between the students and the purposes, there are a lot of flawed areas. Introducing a class to composting and engaging and educating the community is one step towards solving an important issue.