(Editor’s note: This is part two of a story about the agriculture and animals at Revere Middle School.)
Carrie Robertson, who has worked at Paul Revere Charter Middle School since 2011, was named the “Outstanding Educator of the Year” by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom in December.
Robertson received a Literacy for Life grant, and $500 to fund a worm bin project, “Urban Worms: Food Waste Warriors” plus an additional $1,000 for other projects.
“I was frustrated with food waste on this campus,” Robertson said. “There is a great deal of waste, especially with vegetables.” The farm receives vegetables and salad that was going to be thrown in the trash and “we use the food waste in our compost bin.”
Robertson is teaching her students the difference between hot and cold composting. In the cold compost bin, first there is a layer of brown material (leaves, small branches, cardboard) and then a layer of green material such as food waste is added. Every week or two the material is turned or more material can be added – and stirred. The material decomposes and after several months, the compost can be used as a soil amendment.
She also has a hot compost, too, and showed her students how hot it can get by cooking an egg in it. “It cooked solid,” Robertson said about the egg. In a hot compost, generally around 150 degrees, high-nitrogen materials are required, such as chicken waste. At that temperature, weed seeds and disease pathogens die. She raked the hot compost and had this editor smell it.
It was a rich earthy smell. “We don’t want a manure smell at the farm,” Robertson said. “We’ve been inspired by ‘Kiss the Ground.’” The film is a full-length documentary that examines “regenerative agriculture.”
The film notes that “The way we currently grow the majority of our food, fiber, and fuel is actually damaging our planet’s ecosystem at an alarming rate through loss of topsoil, loss of biodiversity, desertification, habitat destruction, and air and water pollution.”
One of the ways to stop damaging the ecosystem is by improving soil health by moving carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil.
Another 2020 documentary that students watched was “The Biggest Little Farm” about an organic and biodynamic farm located 40 miles north of Los Angeles. That farm’s goal is to make the land more productive and biodiverse over time. “One of the key components of healthy soil is organic matter, which is anything that is alive or was once living, such as a plant root, an earthworm, or a microbe.”
Earthworms are used for composting and can help keep food waste out of landfill. Unavoidable food waste, such as eggshells, vegetable peels and tea bags can be “recycled’ by worms. They eat the scraps, which become compost as it passed through the worm’s body. That compost becomes organic fertilizer.
Worm farms are low maintenance and efficient at processing organic matter.
“We try to keep everything here,” said Robertson, who in addition to adding a “worm farm” is planning a research project on oak species for the spring.
The planting area was under construction in 2021 to 2022 to replace an existing sidewalk back to the grape vines with an almost exact duplicate, but “Sometimes when there is a challenge, you can rethink things,” she said. “Lot of ideas come from the kids.”
The students are responsible for weeding and maintain the vineyard where several varieties of grapes are grown. “[Grapes] are a huge part of the state’s economy,” Robertson notes.
Kids do the weeding, the planting, the picking. Students learn about native plants such as the Island Mallow, which is native to Catalina Island and super drought resistant—and growing well at its Revere home.
“Time in childhood should include authentic unstructured activities,” Robertson said. “It should be a time about personal discoveries about nature.
“The bottom line is kids need personal nature experiences,” she said.
If she could change anything, “I wish Palisades High School could create an animal science class, so the kids could continue with what they learn here.”