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Compost after COVID

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By Lochlan Sheridan

Staff writer

lsheridan@mail.smcvt.edu

The 2020-2021 academic year’s food service was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring students to eat with single-use compostable take out containers, cups, and utensils from the dining hall. While these convenient products allowed for close CDC compliance, their environmental impact and usage on the St. Michael’s College farm for growing produce was left unclear.

Sam Belanger ’22 head of OVE (Outdoor Volunteer Efforts) which is a club focused on volunteering to help maintain the college’s farm and surrounding environment, spent this past summer working full-time on the farm. This opportunity gave him a first-hand look into the inner workings of the college’s composting system, and how our disposal efforts from the last academic year might have been less successful as perhaps anticipated. “We do not use the compost that we generated from last year,” Belanger said. “It is something that would be nice to incorporate, but a lot of that stuff is going to take much longer to break down.” 

The College’s large-scale composting efforts can be found near the natural area across Route 15. Within the compost is a portion of the waste generated from last year’s single-use containers. However, much of the waste generated was actually non compostable, Belanger explained. “There is a lot of plastics and pollution in the pile, so I don’t think there will be a situation where that can be used as full grade compost for the farm,” he said. 

While specific bins separated trash from compost throughout campus last year, too much trash and plastic had been mixed with the compostable waste. “Every college in the country was thrust into using compost and that was really our only option,” said Kristyn Achilich, director of the Center for the Environment and instructor of environmental studies and science. “We had to scale up our compost hauling situation by working with a local company, Casella Resource Solutions, to take that waste and create a sustainable financial contract,” Achilich said. 

Any school in the state of Vermont that is growing food for consumption must maintain a food safety certification and use certified compost, according to the Vermont Department of Food Services and Agriculture. 

Photos by Minqi Kong
Top: Jess Edmonds ‘22, Farm Leadership – Crop & Field Coordinator (right), collects crops on Sept. 15.
Above: Juana Lopez ‘22 a student from ES 225 Food Systems & Sustainable Agriculture, picks tomatoes on Sept. 15.

“There is no way that we can use our onsight compost for the farm,” Achilich said. “One thing we can do, however, is use kitchen scraps from Green Mountain Dining Hall to fertilize the landscape, renovate the [Townhouse 300s] field, and mulch trees or bushes.” 

Although it is an extensive effort school wide, the compost system located in the natural area is not certified by the state of Vermont. Due to this inconvenience, the college is severely limited in its ability to recycle and decompose waste, Achilich further added. “While the farm uses a ton of compost from an outside provider, Vermont Compost Company, there is no connection between the compost we make as a college and what we use on the farm,” she said.

Compost from the previous academic year is too contaminated for certified use, but the St. Michael’s farm has been pushing for a successful harvest from this year’s growing season. There is a staffed open-air farm stand outside Cafe Cheray every Thursday from 1:30-5:15 p.m. and a self-serve stand in St. Edmunds hall whenever fresh produce is available. 

Along with the two stands, the farm also supplies the Green Mountain Dining Hall with certain vegetables like mixed greens or tomatoes and runs a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). The CSA is a program that allows students, faculty members, and alumni to pay a base price in exchange for crops from this year’s harvest. 

Aside from growing produce for the St. Michael’s community, the farm welcomes students to assist with various jobs and experience working on the farm. Robbie Sinibaldi ’24 was enrolled in Professor Christina Root’s American Environmental Imagination first-year seminar, and experienced class trips to the farm every Friday last fall. “It was a very cool experience helping out at the farm,” Sinibali said.  “I got the chance to do things I’ve never done before such as plant tomatoes, pluck pumpkins and learn about the whole operation they have going on.” 

Owen Renehan ’24, a fellow classmate of Sinibaldi, had a similar experience on his Friday trips to the farm. “Going to the farm was always a nice break from the classroom,” Renehan said. “Although we were still learning and working hard, the farm is a very relaxing place that always helped clear my head.” 

Any members of the St. Michael’s community who are interested in joining the farm or learning about what they do can join the Outdoor Volunteer Efforts group every Friday at the farm from 2-5 p.m.. The farm is located on Observatory Lane, next to the St. Michael’s Fire and Rescue station, and requires a two minute walk down a small trail. 

“The core of the farm is the farm program which is a four-course series,” Achilich said. “Students who are very invested have the opportunity to stay on campus throughout the summer and work full time on the farm,” she said. There are farm programs for everyone on campus whether you are interested in a full-time position or just want to help out and learn about how it works. 

For further details check out the farms Canvas page or contact kachilich@smcvt.edu or sbelanger@mail.smcvt.edu

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