A high school biology class got Acme No. 14 to start composting produce waste

by Colleen Carroll

Sustainability is on the syllabus at Manchester High School, and it’s all a bunch of garbage — more specifically, biodegradable garbage.

Manchester High School’s biology students celebrated World Water Day this year with experiments that focused on water conservation. Manchester High School teacher Carrie Soful and her biology classes looked to composting as a method of organic waste recycling.

Those methods have now helped Acme Fresh Market recycle thousands of pounds of organic waste.  

“We discovered that 70% of the matter that we compost is water,” Carrie says. “Compost stops water from draining away from the plants as well as evaporating.”

Carrie, who is in her 18th year teaching at Manchester High School, led her general and accelerated biology labs in studying the process of composting by observing food waste decompose in containers over a couple of weeks.

“Hands-on is key,” Carrie says of the labs. “The labs are fun and hands on stick with students more than anything else.”

After completing the experiments, Carrie’s accelerated biology labs developed and tested designs for more efficient methods of composting.

The class then presented their compost plans to the local Acme Fresh Market in Coventry.

“The students’ proposals were eye-opening,” says Katie Swartz, marketing director of Acme Fresh Market. “We try to work with schools, teachers and organizations that are trying to do something positive in the community, and this really worked out.”

Acme No. 14 adopted the students’ composting initiative in January and has since recycled an estimated 100 pounds of produce weekly.

Acme employee and recent Manchester High School graduate Devin Todd was tasked with delivering the filled waste bins to a local farm, where the waste is either fully composted or used to feed livestock.

“Within the first week we probably had a couple hundred pounds of [waste],” Devin says. “I had a lot of help from my co-workers.”

Carrie began focusing her teaching on water conservation with her students three years ago when she and a team of Manchester High School teachers were awarded the GAR Foundation Educator Initiative Grant.

“Carrie is the kind of teacher every student wants to have in class,” writes Dina Younis, communications manager for the GAR Foundation, in an email. “She’s enthusiastic about teaching and learning and is always thinking of creative and innovative ways to help students.”

The GAR Foundation, which awards $350,000 to several education programs within Summit County, was impressed with Manchester’s World Water Day initiative. The program involves multiple departments educating students on the historical, social and scientific consequences of water conservation.

Before teaching biology, Carrie taught environmental courses at Manchester High School and is dedicated to teaching her students the importance of developing sustainable habits like recycling.

“I believe making people do it with the law is not going to work,” Carrie says. “You have to educate people why it’s important.”

Manchester High School intends to continue developing students’ green thumbs into next year, with plans of opening a school store where they hope to sell fresh produce from the school garden as well as bags of compost collected from the cafeteria.

Colleen Carroll is a journalism student at Kent State University.

Photos: World Water Day 2019 at Manchester High School. Photos by Shane Wynn.