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Penn State New Kensington to work compost into soil, education

Mary Ann Thomas
| Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, 1:06 a.m.
Kevin Snider, Penn State New Kensington chancellor, talks about the new  composting program at the campus in Upper Burrell on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Kevin Snider, Penn State New Kensington chancellor, talks about the new composting program at the campus in Upper Burrell on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014.
William Hamilton, a biology assistant professor, speaks about the educational opportunities for students at the new site of a compost area at Penn State New Kensington in Upper Burrell on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014.
Eric Felack | Trib Total Media
William Hamilton, a biology assistant professor, speaks about the educational opportunities for students at the new site of a compost area at Penn State New Kensington in Upper Burrell on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014.

Penn State New Kensington officials insist that what looked like a lowly bag of garbage left in a field is, in fact, the start of an educational and green revolution at the Upper Burrell campus.

While only a small pile, school officials christened its compose site on Wednesday morning amid much fanfare for the sustainable project.

PSNK wants to convert hundreds of pounds of food scraps that would normally be hauled to a landfill into “black gold” — nutrient-rich compost that will improve campus soils for gardens and other projects.

Officials, including Chancellor Kevin Snider, christened the site by tossing food scraps, half-eaten apples, onto a patch of grass in a field area behind the campus buildings.

“It's an exciting day for us,” he said.

Hannah Hohman, 19, of Allegheny Township, who is president of the school's Student Government Association, said, “What is happening here is that rather than just telling a student to recycle or compost, they are being told why.”

Campus food services at its student cafeteria, known as Café 780, will send food scraps left over from when fresh food is prepared as well as coffee to the compost heap.

About 700 PSNK students who frequent the Café will be encouraged to add to the compost coffers with some of their food scraps.

Students will learn about composting while at the cafeteria and in certain classes. The school's biology and other departments expect to study the compost pile, monitoring the decay of the food scraps into an organic soil additive.

The PSNK Science Club and the Green Team, made up of faculty, staff and students, has been working to start the compost program for the last three years.

The campus received an $11,300 grant from the Sustainability Institute at Penn State to get the program going.

It paid for:

• New food disposal bins in Café 780 for students to segregate recyclables, food meant for compost and garbage not for compost.

• New counters and bins for the kitchen staff to pitch food scraps for the compost pile.

• Educational efforts and materials to inform students about composting.

For the first two weeks of school, Green Team members will man the cafeteria to impart the finer details of composting food to students. The students also will study the composting process in class.

“We're trying to be a living laboratory,” said Ruthann Herstek, one of the Green Team leaders, who works for the school's academic affairs department.

The school will offer a composting workshop, and students will work with faculty on proposing some research projects.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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