CompostCorps: The Dirtiest Job They’ll Ever Love

"I woke up thinking about this party!"

"This is the best party ever!"

"This is the best job I’ll ever have!"

What are these third graders talking about? Their Compost Employee Appreciation Party, of course.

At Arthur Ashe Charter School, the Edible Schoolyard NOLA garden team “hires” student employees to help with composting after lunch. Even though it’s technically a volunteer position, being a Compost Employee is a pretty big deal for a third grader. Interested students submit applications for the position. Then, each applicant has an “interview” with a garden teacher, which sounds something like this:

What Ashe core value will you be exemplifying by being a compost employee?

“I want to help my community and keep things clean and nice.”

Why do you want to be a Compost Employee?

“The more we compost the nicer our garden looks, and I want our garden to look beautiful.”

Do you have any responsibilities at home that show that you can take on more responsibility at school? 

“I sleep at home. I sleep like an angel.”

Next, the new hires (p.s. they all get hired) are trained, sometimes by the garden teacher and sometimes by a former Compost Employee, to perform their daily duties: teaching other students how to compost correctly (no plastic bags in the compost bucket!) and collecting all the leftover food from that meal to bring to the compost outside.

When you see a third grader pulling a dirty compost bucket off a lunch table, it may appear at first as a punitive task for bad behavior. But, in the words of Megan McHugh, Garden Teacher at Ashe, “being a Compost Employee is the opposite of punishment; it’s a reward.” The young scholars take pride in their jobs, and they ought to because their jobs are important. Thanks to kids like these, ESYNOLA composts over 20,000 lbs of produce every year across five school cafeterias.

At the end-of-the-year Compost Employee Appreciation Party, the workers celebrated their term of service with a snack of seasoned popcorn, a mint and fruit spritzer, and a dance party. They each received a trophy for their efforts—a tiny golden Dixie cup with a plastic insect on top. During the award ceremony, it was the students, not the teachers, who spoke about why each Compost Employee should receive an award:

“He’s a good person and helps me when I’m sad.”

“She’s a really good friend.”

“She has a lot of integrity.”

“He cares about the community and the earth.”

At the end of the party, one third-grade Compost Employee told his Garden Teacher Ms. Megan, “When I grow up I want to be a composter and a gardener.” It doesn't get much better than that.

--

Edible Schoolyard New Orleans thanks funders and community partners who support innovative farm-to-school education at FirstLine Schools, including:  W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Louisiana Public Health Institute, Octavia Foundation, Ruth U. Fertel Foundation, Newman’s Own Foundation, USDA Farm To School Grant Program, The Murphy Family Foundation, The Joe W. and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation, Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Chevron, Ella West Freeman Foundation, Almar Foundation and New Orleans Wine and Food Experience.