Casey Composting Champions

Composting in the Cafeteria

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. 

Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado is a fine example of a sustainable school.

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?”.

Chef Ann Cooper of the Chef Ann Foundation

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.

Plant-Forward Option with Locally-Grown, Organic Food!

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.

Guides Help Students Load Their Plates for Ideal Nutrition

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.

All trays, plates, cups, and cutlery are washed and reused.
Food waste and other compostables are weighed daily to keep track of the carbon offset.

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!

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Making our way to the Monarchs

The journey to the Vanilla plantation was about a five hour drive, so the return was about the same.  We drove back to Veracruz and stayed in the Hotel Deligencias again.  Dinner was in the hotel restaurant and we all enjoyed recapping our time with Jorge, Mike and Jesus and sipping margaritas.  Then it was off to bed as early as we could stand it because the alarm was going off at 4:00a.m.

At the Veracruz Airport saying “Adios” to our guide, Jorge.

Packed up and ready to leave the hotel by 5:15a.m. (not morning, btw), the eleven of us were driven by Jesus to Veracruz airport and then escorted in by Jorge.  We checked our bags and then settled in to have some breakfast (and coffee!!) at a restaurant in the airport since we had two plus hours until our flight departed.

Waste sorting in the Veracruz Airport – in my experience, it’s confusing everywhere…

When I booked my AeroMexico flight, I chose the Carbon Offset option, especially since Mexico City’s air quality is, albeit better than it used to be, still is not particularly good. They have committed to reducing their carbon footprint by participating in the MexicO2 program, whose goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2050.

To improve air quality, Mexico City instituted “No Drive Days” where people can’t drive on different days based on the color of their license plate. People got around it by buying a second car….

But then they added the last number of your license plates. Anyone can drive on Sundays. Bus transportation is pretty decent and there is a subway that is the most used public transportation system. For safety, the first two cars are for women, children, disabled and elderly (Because there used to be a lot of muggings). Also, electric taxis and bicycle taxis
Speed cameras – hidden so everyone drives carefully. 🙂

We boarded the plane to Mexico City at 7:55a.m. and, after a smooth and very quick flight, during which we saw the (active) Popocatepetl volcano (see cover photo), we landed around 9:00a.m.  In Mexico City, we were greeted by our new guides, Reuben Encalada (Dopamina Travel) and Carlos Solis.  They took us to get cash (pesos) and use the banos and then to our new transportation for the next few days – another 18-passenger van.

Landing in Mexico City, I couldn’t help but notice the smog.  I had heard that the air pollution in Mexico City was bad, but I had no idea – it’s like Denver on it’s worst high ozone day – times 10.  Many of us started coughing upon arrival and the lack of air quality was noticeable right away.

Thankfully, we didn’t linger and, once packed up, we drove out to a town called Metepec for lunch and a bit of sight-seeing.  Part of our lunch break was exploring an artisan village of sorts (Centro de Exposicion y Venta Artesanal) where many artisans made pieces of art – many themed with the Tree of Life or Dia de Los Muertos.

Before departing, we walked around Metepec and checked out the Capilla del Calvario chapel.  It had a bit of the feel of Paris from Sacre Couer.

Then, we were off again and drove a couple more hours to Valle de Bravo – a lovely Mediterranean town (that had more the feel of Urbino in Italy – or maybe Como).  It’s a great escape for residents of Mexico City. We checked into our boutique-y hotel, Meson de Leyends – our home for the next two nights.  We had some time to walk around town before dinner.

Dinner was at a lovely restaurant down the street and then we were off to bed.

Next we see the butterflies! Stay tuned….

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