Worm Farming in Schools – Inspiring Students
Today, we are welcoming a guest blogger, Lisa Stephenson from Auckland, New Zealand. Lisa is a teacher in an Intermediate School (11-13 years) in Takapuna, a community on the North Shore of Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. It is a wonderful place to live, right on the sea with lots going on and an enthusiastic, multi-generation population. She has been partly responsible for introducing vermicomposting (a.k.a. worm farming) to her school and here she is describing the experience and the out-come of everyone’s hard work. I am a huge supporter of this type of hands-on teaching, where the next generation is inspired to take care of our environment in a practical way. Wish it happened more.
Worms – a school perspective.
Asking 600 adolescents to think twice about anything can be a challenge, and developing new habits in regard to rubbish and recycling is no different. Over years of changes to the processes and the thinking of both staff and students, Takapuna Normal Intermediate (T.N.I.S.) now has a successful Waste Policy, and a thriving worm farm.
T.N.I.S. is an Enviro School, and we were awarded our Silver Enviro Award in 2008 under the guidance of Christina Merrick. Part of becoming an Enviro School is challenging and rethinking the way we dispose of rubbish, so – Enter the worms! We started out with one old bath, and a few buckets around the school to collect our food scraps in. Students were encouraged to put their food scraps in the right place, and a team of dedicated Enviro Council members emptied them each couple of days. They turned the castings and collected “Worm Tea”, which we diluted and either sold for $2 to our community or used around the school gardens.
One of our major barriers in this project is that students continue to give them non-worm friendly food (citrus mainly) and we still get the odd bit of plastic too. The Enviro Council students continue to remove these items when they can. Another issue was staff and student buy-in. We had to change the culture of our school to embrace the new systems and this is a continuing process requiring passionate key staff to lead the way.
In 2012 the Enviro Council conducted a waste audit and found that a huge proportion of our waste was actually food – whole apples, banana skins, mandarins and sandwiches made up the largest percentage of what went to the landfill. Armed with this information we campaigned around the school, purchased more worm buckets, and encouraged ‘wrap free’ Wednesdays. In 2013, we went further and encouraged ‘wrap free’ everyday, and provided more worm buckets around the school.
This has caused another issue – our success in recycling these food scraps has now overtaken our capacity! The worms are multiplying, but we have too much for them to be able to cope with so we are now looking at trying to get another bath to host our worms. This will also allow us to make it a team challenge (perfect for motivation) with each of our teaching teams having responsibility for a bath, which will provide even more incentive for the students to recycle their food.
While the process has taken a number of years, students on the Enviro Council are focussed on waste minimisation, and the staff have become more supportive as they see the impact of the work put in. Getting the teachers involved was key to ensuring the messages were consistent across the school. It also fits in well with many of the units of inquiry where we want the students to develop a strong sense of community, as well as a developing understanding of the impact our actions can have on the local and global community.
Most rewarding though is hearing the students take the lead on the environmental projects. We hear them talking about being wrap free, asking where the worm bins are, and discussing the impact these small actions make on the school. Some have even started their own worm farms at home! While creating a system on such a big scale has been a challenge, it has been worth it to know that we are making a small difference to our world.