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Redworms save thousands of dollars in waste-disposal fees

The Worm Cafe coverKALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN--Wastes go to waste when they go into the dumpster--especially when they are food wastes. They attract flies and other nuisances. The landfill people say we have lots of landfill capacity, but the fees keep going up for hauling stuff there. Kids minds go to waste when they go to classes that are dry, boring, and uninteresting. Their minds come alive when they are challenged with real-life problems and are given opportunities to solve them in creative ways.

The Worm Cafe: Mid-Scale Vermicomposting of Lunchroom Waste--A Manual for Schools, Small Businesses and Community Groups by Binet Payne solves both problems. Her students dealt with the real-life problem of what to do with cafeteria waste in their middle school in Laytonville, California. They developed a comprehensive program for keeping food waste separate from recyclables and veggie waste from the meat and dairy. They fed the veggies to redworms, saved meat and dairy for pigs, and shredded paper they collected from the classrooms to use as bedding. The worms turned the bedding and veggies into dark, earthy, nutrient-rich material they use to fertilize their garden plots. Some of the veggies grown there go right back to the cafeteria to feed the kids and staff. You can't beat that for recycling! And the school has saved $6000 a year from waste disposal fees since it began.

Formerly a classroom teacher, now a consultant, Payne tells it all in The Worm Cafe: how they got the food service staff involved, how the parents learn about the program, how they got approval from the board, how they paid for their first paper shredders, how the students do the work.

The Worm Cafe is full of original artwork by Paul Bourgeois showing worm bin designs, schematics of food-burial sequencing, earthworm anatomy, cafeteria layout for recycling bins. Photographs show students building worm bins, weighing garbage, turning the bedding in the bins. Appendices include checklists, resources, reproducible posters, work sheets and forms, a draft letter to parents, quizzes, and record sheets. An 8-page index leads a reader or researcher to the rich content found in this book. Payne's annotations of the most useful books she has found in her 20+ years of classroom teaching is a major contribution to teachers looking for the gems among the mountains of instructional materials available. Categorized by Animals, Plants, Nature, and Values, Payne gives us 30 pages of sources divided into Children's Books and Curriculum and Teacher Resources.

Payne based her system on Mary Appelhof's popular how-to book, Worms Eat My Garbage which sold nearly 120,000 copies since its publication in 1982. The 1997 revision continues to generate brisk sales as more people take to their gardens and accept simpler lifestyles after burning out from the pace of modern day life. Payne found larger systems more forgiving than the small classroom bins she started with.

About the author: A graduate of Sonoma State University, Binet Payne received her teaching credentials from Dominican College of San Rafael. Her experience began with children in preschool and then extended through the ninth grade where gardening has been a part of their education since 1986 in Laytonville, California, Mendocino County. Believing that rural education needs to be preserved, her extremely effective teaching connects a sense of place to the intellectual work students do. She has worked with the Center for Ecoliteracy, the Autodesk Foundation, and the Center for Complex Instruction at Stanford University. Currently, Payne is a project director for the North Coast Rural Challenge Network, helping students become stewards of their communities rather than irresponsible owners.

Zenobia Barlow, executive director at the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, says, "Binet Payne gives us a vision of education worthy of emulating. . . . Binet's students are planting gardens, growing their own lunches, and mapping the cycles and flows of the ecosystems in which their school and communities are imbedded. The Worm Cafe emerges out of a rich and meaningful context."

The Worm Cafe: Mid-Scale Vermicomposting of Lunchroom Waste A Manual for Schools, Small Businesses and Community Groups by Binet Payne is published by Flower Press, 10332 Shaver Rd, Kalamazoo, MI 49024. Available for $29.95 plus $4 shipping.


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