Reducing Food Waste at North Hi Mount
When students at North Hi Mount Elementary School finish their lunch, they no longer apathetically dump the remaining contents of their trays into a trash can. Now, they’re learning to be more conscientious about what they do and (perhaps more importantly) do not throw away.
Thanks to a new sustainability pilot program, a part of a partnership between Fort Worth Independent School District, the Tarrant County Food Policy Council’s Food Recovery Working Group, and Cowboy Compost, the kids at North Hi Mount now have the resources and guidance they need to live green and minimize the amount of waste they create.
The program has manifested as a new line of five stations — a “share table” and four specialized waste bins — rather than a single smorgasbord of a trash can. As students leave the cafeteria, they walk through the line and sort their waste into the appropriate bin.
While older students are able to easily grasp the sorting process, younger students usually require a little more help. Volunteers — including NHM parents, TCU students, and Food Recovery Working Group members — man the line every lunch period to help kids sort their waste. Even though it is technically a learning experience, students still have fun with the process.
“It’s kind of like a puzzle to them,” says Lin Patton, a volunteer with the Food Recovery Working Group.
The cornerstone of the program, and the first stop in the new line, is the Share Table. At this station, students can drop off their unwanted and uneaten foods — including whole fruits and intact packaged items — for other students to pick up. Any food that is left on the table at the end of the day is passed out as students are loaded onto busses, so absolutely nothing goes to waste.
While all students are welcome and encouraged to partake in the Share Table, it is specifically meant to aid those who are struggling with food insecurity. According to 2017 data from the USDA Economic Research Service, Texas had higher levels of household food insecurity than the national average. That number is even higher in Tarrant County, where one in four children is food insecure, meaning that they do not know where or when they will get their next meal.
Foods that are not accepted at the food table, including partially eaten or open foods, are not simply going to be thrown away either. Instead, Cowboy Compost has helped North Hi Mount set up it’s very own composting program to even further reduce waste. And it’s not only food that’s getting composted. Since the inception of the program, the school has started using compostable lunch trays and napkins. The compost that is produced as a result of this program will be used in North Hi Mounts garden, yet another program helping student live more sustainably.
Dr. Gina Jarman Hill, a TCU Nutritional Sciences professor and member of the Food Recovery Working Group, is optimistic the Share Table will teach students of North Hi Mount how they can help decrease food waste, as well as give them more access to healthy and substantial snacks. Dr. Hill says, “Through the Share Table and composting program, we’re teaching the students to be ‘Earth Heroes!’”
Melanie Stolze is a senior at TCU. She is one of the PR managers at Roxo, the TCU student-run advertising and PR agency.