by, Liz Rutledge, Founder, Sustainable Three, LLC
Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado is an inspiring example of how to compost in a school cafeteria. With 600 students in the entire school, half of whom get what we used to call “hot lunch”, the cafeteria staff provides 300 lunches a day.
Meet Chef Ann Cooper. She established the Chef Ann Foundation in 2009 to bring healthier lunches to schools in the Boulder Valley School District. Chef Ann is passionate about getting kids to eat healthy, balanced meals. “It starts with the school district’s Wellness Policy”. Boulder’s is really strong. She emphasizes the direct connection between healthy food and academic performance. “We don’t give kids a choice about what they learn in the classroom. Why would we give them a choice on the best, healthiest way to eat?”.
The Boulder Valley Nutrition Services department provides ~14,000 meals a day with three kitchens for the entire school district. Meals are primarily made from scratch (except rolls, flatbreads, etc.), but those items are sources locally. They attempt to have mostly organically-grown food. Milk is provided via dispensers with reusable cups. Lemon-infused water is provided as well. Cutlery is reusable as well as the plates and serving trays. Plastic bags are the only landfill trash produced.
Students are provided with guides on how to load their plates. They have to have three components on their plates according to Federal regulations. This includes ½ cup of fruit, ½ cup of vegetables, and eight ounces of milk. At Casey Middle School at least, there is always a plant forward meal offered. Posters with pictures show what a serving looks like.
In Boulder Valley, the health initiative also includes composting in the cafeteria. Composting is THE most impactful thing we can all be doing to help with carbon footprint. After students finish their meals, they go to the dish washing station where they dump any uneaten food in a bin that weighs how much food waste is going to be composted. Then, their trays, plates, cups and cutlery are washed before the next meal shift.
Daily, the bins are put into a composting dumpster that is picked up by local Boulder’s Eco-Cycle where the food waste is converted into compost that helps with carbon absorption, putting nutrients back into the soil.
For more on composting, see some of my other blog posts on sustainablethree.com! Like basics of composting and why it’s important or how we off-set over 2000 pounds of compostable waste at Denver East High School’s After Prom!