Saturday, October 13, 2012

Green Shoots

I and one of the teachers at James's school have started a composting program at the school. Every fall, as I'd drive my bus van to and from the school, I'd look at all the dead leaves on the drive and think what a shame they were being wasted. A highschool is practically like a little village, with all the land and vegetation around it, as well as the cafeteria producing vegetable waste, and even the woodshop to build compost bins. We convinced the principal that this would be a workable project, and several bins have just finished being built, with more to come.

Part of the reason for coming up with the project was to provide something for Thomas to do, now that he's graduated from school. So he comes with me twice a week to the school, and I also bring along two other graduates from his class in the autism program, and we go through the school collecting the vegetable and fruit waste in the classes where we've set up plastic bins.

It's early days still, we've only been going for about 2 weeks, but I think it's going to work quite well. On Friday, we collected over 7kg! That's about 15 lbs; over a week, that would come to 75 lbs - 300lbs over a month, and over a 10-month school year, 3,000 lbs! And at the moment, people are still not yet in the habit of using the bins; it takes a while before it becomes second nature, so I'm in hopes that by the end of the month we might be getting even more per day. We're weighing the baskets as we collect them, so we can give progress reports on how much we've collected.

When the compost is finished, we plan to use it in the greenhouse. This school has a full-size, commercial quality glass greenhouse at the back, which is almost never used. In fact, there aren't going to be any classes in there until next semester, so this has become our base of operations. As it gets colder, we'll be doing less outside - basically just going out to dump our baskets. During those months, we're going to try growing produce in the greenhouse; I've read that lettuce can grow during the winter, because it likes cool weather. We might also try starting plants for spring planting, which we could sell in the spring.

I've never actually tried working with autistic people; I've lived with them for decades, but working is a little different. I've quickly discovered that you can't make them just work nonstop until the job is done - they don't operate on that rhythm. They have to have the job broken up into smaller pieces. So we go on our rounds, collect our stuff and deposit it in the compost bin, then head back to the greenhouse. Then we take a break for everyone to rest and entertain themselves with reading or music. Then we wash and dry all the empty bins...and then we take a break again! Then we return the clean baskets to the classroom, return to the greenhouse, and break for lunch. Finally, we potter around in the greenhouse until it's time to clean up and go home. Mostly, I do the work in the greenhouse; I haven't been able to get the boys interested in it, though the girls enjoy it. That may just end up being the division of labour - I think girls are just more interested in growing things. I might have to think of something else for the boys to do - making origami basket liners perhaps.

Anyway, this is quite an invigorating project for me, and I really hope it turns out well. It would be nice if this could become like a pilot project for other highschools. The name of our group is "Green Shoots" - I came up with that. Maybe I was being a little sardonic at first, because I remembered Barack Obama talking about "green shoots" of economic recovery...back in 2009! So much for that. I figure we'll demonstrate what green shoots REALLY look like.

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