Students at Ramona High School have a daily ritual during the school week - collecting buckets of food scraps from the high school kitchen, weighing the buckets, adding contents to the composting unit, rinsing out the buckets, recording data, checking the Earth Tub composting bin’s temperature, and operating the unit.
The Eco-Leaders are a small group of high school students who participate in a pilot program in collaboration with the County of San Diego and the Ramona Unified School District (RUSD). Rich Flammer, Principal and Owner of Hidden Resources, has been instrumental in bringing about the collaboration that is the first of its kind in Southern California. Kitchen scraps from eight RUSD schools are kept out of the local landfill and are processed into compostable material each school day by the Eco-Leaders.
Not all food waste goes into the Earth Tub. Any edible food from the cafeteria suitable for donation is given to Ramona Food & Clothes Closet to distribute to those in need in the community. Some of the vegetative and bakery food scraps are separated and provided to Ramona High's agricultural department to feed its animals.
The Earth Tub composting unit is diverting food scraps into soil amendment that will enrich garden soil and reduce waste going into landfills. The school district has an agreement with the County, which owns the Earth Tub, to maintain the composting unit and maximize food waste diversion as a model program. The 600-hundred-gallon Earth Tub can reach a temperature of 160 degrees and can handle 50 pounds of food scraps per day as well as 50 pounds of wood chips.
Managed by Ramona High teacher Gloria Quinn and her Functional Skills Class, the composting program is benefiting many and drawing interest from community gardeners.
"This wouldn't work without a champion like Gloria," said Flammer.
Ramona High's composting program follows the Environmental Protection Agency's food recovery hierarchy with incineration or landfill sitting at the bottom as the least preferred method of ridding food waste, while composting, feeding animals, and feeding hungry people are more desirable methods.
Since the program started last September, a total of 5,659 pounds of food has been diverted and 1,064 pounds of food has been donated.