New federal school lunch guidelines mandate that students receive at least one full cup of fruits and vegetables at each meal.
The unfortunate downside to this well-intentioned rule is that more food waste ends up in schools’ trash bins each day if students aren’t up for eating that much produce.
This additional waste was bothering three enterprising Monticello High School students, and together they came up with a remedy that benefits everyone involved – even the local pig population.
Jon DeCamp, Riley Dziuk and Jordan Ott ran several ideas by Monticello’s food service manager Joe Happe until they hit on the viable solution of having pigs eat the wasted food.
This idea came from an episode of the show Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel, and Happe worked with them to make it a reality at MHS. Their new food waste program took effect Jan. 2 at the high school, with the middle school starting up Feb. 3.
High school students now put their extra milk and food scraps in an organic waste bin before dumping their traditional lunchtime garbage and recycling. The Pig Committee, as Happe calls the three student masterminds behind the program, helped as he set up a deal where local farmer Pete Barthold, who raises 5,000 pigs as part of a family farming operation, hauls away the organic waste for around $4 per bin.
His business, Barthold Recycling, gets food waste from restaurants, grocery stores and school districts for their pig feed, and Happe said they already come through Monticello three times per week during their routes to and from the Buffalo Hospital, another partner.
Barthold Recycling puts the food waste into their trucks, which are specially equipped with a steam pipe attachment. The food is heated to 212 degrees for 30 minutes, and then the heat-sanitized food is taken out of the truck with front-end loaders and fed to the pigs.
So far Happe said student reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and the students aren’t the only ones with good things to say. Kitchen staff is grateful that Barthold Recycling deals with all the food hauling and bin cleaning, saying it greatly reduces the weight of the trash bags they take out, and Happe said this switch will save the district over $200 per month in reduced garbage hauling needs at the high school alone.
Once implemented in all of the district’s schools, he said this would equal about $10,000 in savings to the district per year.
DeCamp, Dziuk and Ott really hit the ground running and took ownership from the beginning, Happe added. The so-called “Pig Committee” created a video and slideshow to explain the new program to the school board and to all high school staff and students in their homeroom classes.
Middle school staff and students will also see their video this month as they gear up to start separating their food scraps as well. The three students also flexed their creative muscle in their creation of signage for the new program, and they stood at the tray clearing station the first day to assist their fellow students with the change.
“It’s pretty neat to have a program like this driven by the kids,” Happe said. “We save upwards of $10,000 a year by having the pigs eat the scraps, and it’s the right thing to do. These gentlemen did a great job.”
School board members loved the new program and thanked Decamp, Dzuik and Ott for their efforts at last December’s school board meeting.
“I’m so glad you feel enough ownership in this school, to care enough to come up with an idea to make it better,” said board member Liz Leitch-Sell. “It’s good for all of us.”
Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller covers education and the Monticello School District.