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UM Compost Team Ignites Ole Miss into a Greener Society

Victoria Burgos and Angie Jordan compost thrown-away food into healthy soil.
Victoria Burgos and Angie Jordan compost thrown-away food into healthy soil.

Today is Earth Day, a conclusion to the University of Mississippi’s Green Week.

All week leading up to Earth Day, the University of Mississippi and the Office of Sustainability has hosted Green Week. Yet still this week was dedicated to bringing awareness to students and members of the Oxford-Lafayette community on how the members can do their part to create a better environment and preserve the earth. One program that the Ole Miss community got to learn more about this week was the UM Compost Program.

Photo from Ignite Ole Miss
Photo from Ignite Ole Miss

The UM Compost program was created with the support of the UM Green Fund in 2013, which backed a proposal from student and team adviser Victoria Burgos who originally came up with the idea to start a composting project here on campus. According to Burgos after going through various ideas, she along with her Students for a Green Campus partner Caroline Williams at the time, as well as Anne McCauley Assistant Director in the Office of Sustainability, decided to create a composting project. Because of the campus environment, they found it simple to build a case for why there was a need for the project and would fit well into the UM Green . Through research they were able to see how much food is wasted on campus and saw they found that they could convert thousands of pounds of food into an usable compost for the local gardens.

According to project manager Lindsey Abernathy, for the Office of Sustainability which supports the UM Compost program, the mission of the Office of Sustainability is to be a catalyst for environmentally positive change by educating, connecting and empowering the members of the community for the well-being of people and their ecological systems.

“The Office of Sustainability is very student-focused. In addition to numerous educational events, we offer employment opportunities, volunteer opportunities and sustainability-focused field trips. We offer an EcoReps program for residential students interested in becoming leaders in sustainability among their peers, as well as a Freshman Interest Group for incoming freshman who want to learn more,” said Abernathy.

Victoria Burgos and Andie Jordan work on the UM Compost team.
Victoria Burgos and Andie Jordan work on the UM Compost team.

In the office, Abernathy helps coordinate programs such as the UM Compost Program, the Green Grove Gameday Recycling Program, and the Green Student Intern Program. She also plans their Food Day events in the fall, and works with a team to coordinate Green Week events in the spring.

Now Abernathy and the Office of Sustainability has teamed up with Ignite Ole Miss to raise $2,000 for the UM Compost Program. They are currently 87 percent near its goal with $1,750.

“We are fervently trying to become more and more independent of the Green Fund so that more monies may be freed to start up a wider range of sustainability projects. Our goal of $2,000 will supply one student intern’s income for one academic year, as well as two soil tests (one per semester) to keep us Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality certified (MDEQ),” said senior Victoria Burgos, cofounder and current advisor to the composting team.

What exactly is composting as one would ask?

According to Ole Miss Senior and member of the compost team, Steven Wild, composting serves purposes at a scientific level but also a social level.

“At the scientific level, composting substantially reduces the amount of harmful greenhouse gases like methane and CO2 emitted into the environment as a result of diverting waste from the local landfill. But, on a much deeper level, the presence of a composting program at UM forces students and faculty alike as a community to reconsider their priorities as a society in regards to how people manage, allocate and sustain our resources,” said Wild.

So far since the founding of the program they have converted over 55,000 pounds of pre-consumer food waste from the local landfill.

Both Burgos and Wild began their efforts to create a substantial eco-friendly world before they entered college.

Burgos, a native of Olive Branch, became more aware of environmental issues in high school through her enrollment in the AP Environmental Science and by getting involved in her high school’s science club. Wild, a native of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, said that he was raised in a rural area where he was able to garden, recycle, and compost with his parents. He also said that a study abroad trip to Germany inspired him to help make a change here on campus.

“The amount of waste we produce as a college community and how we handle that waste speaks volumes about our character and ideals as a university, and I believe the composting program reshapes our character for the better by asserting a sustainable model for future development and growth that respects the rights of future generations to have access to the same resources that we ourselves do,” he said.

This past week they have sold compost a cubic foot for $6 and a cubic yard for $40. Next year they will expand pick up sites to college students favorites coffee shops Starkbucks and Einsteins.

“The UM Garden uses the compost and just this past month we sold bags of compost to local farmers and anyone else that wanted it and all the bags are already sold out! During the sustainability fair we sold compost and we had a small demonstration out,” said sophomore Natalie Balkon, intern for the office of sustainability.

Ann-Marie Herod is a broadcast journalism major for the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. She can be reached at aherod@go.olemiss.edu.

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