The Quabbin Composting and Organic Gardening Program began in March 2008 with the goal of promoting sustainability in the community.
Quabbin Regional High School student volunteers participate in composting cafeteria leftovers and using the resulting compost to enrich and fertilize an organic garden on site. The Quabbin cafeteria finishes the cycle by serving school garden produce at lunches. During summer months, student volunteers sell their produce at local farmers’ markets and donate monthly to the local food bank, giving the entire community the taste of real, freshly-grown organic produce.
Since its beginning in 2008, the Quabbin Composting and Organic Gardening Program has become an integral part of the Quabbin Regional High School community. After the construction of the compost bins and the initial preparation of the garden, the program took root.
“I can’t think of any other school that is doing composting on the scale and scope that Quabbin is.” – Ann McGovern, Consumer Waste Reduction Coordinator for Mass. Department of Environmental Protection.
The 3000 square foot garden on campus is fertilized and maintained with the compost collected and made from the school cafeteria leftovers. When school is in session, we return the produce to the school cafeteria to be used for lunches. On other occasions, members distribute a treat of fresh-picked carrots, cherry tomatoes, or strawberries right to the classrooms. This is our way of giving back to the school and completing the cycle of sustainability that we have begun. The students have observed the collection of food scraps, the composting process, and the production of new, delicious vegetables. This fosters the mentality that we are inseparable from the environment, and that taking care of the environment is an ongoing, essential, and very rewarding process.
One of our goals as a program is to become financially self-sufficient. We are currently progressing towards this goal through sales that increase each year. We still graciously accept the help of our supporters from whom we receive financial aid in the form of grants, donations, and scholarships.
In order to continue working towards our self-sustaining goal, we bring in income by selling our produce when school is not in session and by selling value-added garden products . During summer vacation, members sell produce weekly at the Barre Farmer’s Market, after picking it earlier that morning. We look to provide the freshest and highest quality produce, and therefore try to reduce the time between picking and selling as much as possible.
Also, once a month we give back to the community that has supported us, by donating our produce to the local food pantry. This way, we are able to thank the community for its support, while providing organic produce to individuals who otherwise may not have access to it. The best part is that we are providing people with fresh, real produce that was grown literally 2 miles down the road, as opposed to unnatural processed foods or supermarket produce that has been shipped from 3,000 miles away. Our tomatoes and carrots are especially popular because people love their exceptional sweetness and juiciness.
Over the past few years, the program has been gaining momentum, and our annual income has increased by 800% since our first year in 2008. We can credit this success to the creation of our line of value-added products, which we started in 2010. These products include dried and braided shallots, organic seeds saved from our garden, note cards with student-made artwork, natural dye plants, and our line of medicinal products. All of these products can be purchased in person, via mail order, or through online ordering.
The more recent success of our program can also be credited to an expansion of our market, which has been made possible in part by supportive local businesses. The Hardwick Farmer’s Coop, which is located in a neighboring town in our school district, sells our seeds in their store. Also, Listening Wellness Center in Barre sells our medicinal products, and has been extremely supportive to us along our journey. Additionally, within the past year, we have developed an informational brochure that has helped spread awareness about our program, promoted our ideals, and offered a means of mail-ordering from us.
What makes the QCOGP remarkable is the fact that it works toward sustainability while educating and developing the individual. It provides a hands-on learning experience for teens that educates them in the science behind sustainability while developing the patience, hard work, and discipline needed in the program. It also creates an opportunity for students to take on responsibility and leadership that develops self-esteem in the individual that will empower them for life.
Our hope is that our delicious produce will help all our teens, adults, and children of the community know not just the health benefits, but also the incomparable taste of fresh foods. We hope that these experiences will stay with the members involved, and all the people we have the pleasure of reaching.
Our website can be found at: http://quabbincompostingandgardening.org/
Activity advisors: Karen DiFranza; email@example.com & Paul DuBois; firstname.lastname@example.org