ECMS-Inglewood and The Bay Foundation’s Table to Farm Composting Program

By Caden Sullivan

The Parkway Project is a student-operated composting garden that provides fresh produce to locals.

Looking for a new farmers market? The Bay Foundation and Environmental Charter Middle School-Inglewood are furthering the Table to Farm Composting for Clean Air program to incorporate a community garden.

Based out of Westchester, The Bay Foundation’s goal is to preserve the Santa Monica Bay and inland watershed. They began the project three years ago by implementing compost bins at Environmental Charter Schools (ECS) campuses where local restaurants could recycle food waste.

The Bay Foundation’s community engagement program manager Georgia Tunioli says, “We helped produce the project and get it off the ground, because it really fits into our larger mission to restore and enhance the Santa Monica Bay and watershed for all.”

By diverting waste, creating compost for student gardens and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the collaboration has recycled over six tons of food waste and prevented 395 kilograms of methane emission from entering the atmosphere. The process is very simple: Local restaurants divert food waste to ECS compost bins, ECS students learn to use the food waste as compost for gardening and fresh produce from the garden is provided to families.

This program reduces food waste and air pollution, while increasing soil health, which consequently improves the environment. By recycling food waste, cutting down on gas used to transport waste and produce and providing local food, Table to Farm Composting is tackling multiple environmental issues in one model.

Along the way, it’s teaching students how to do all of this themselves and lead their own communities when they grow older. ECMS Inglewood’s Green Ambassador teacher Tashanda Giles-Jones states, “In addition to feeding the community, we want to educate them.”

The process of recycling food waste to produce fresh fruit and vegetables is a century-old tactic; composting isn’t new. But in the 100 years it’s been around, very few communities have successfully adopted the practice. On a large scale, composting costs money and requires workers or facilities to operate. The transportation of materials also ends up polluting the air, so while promising, it has its challenges.

The Table to Farm Composting project is thriving because of its collaborative approach with participation from different facets of the community, from students to local businesses to composting experts. At this moment, the project is small-scale, but the model it showcases is powerful and scalable.

The ECS campuses are wholeheartedly concerned with educating their students on sustainable practices and environmental education, but the faculty understands that education is only a piece of the puzzle we face in revitalizing the planet. In addition to learning about environmental science, the students are social justice-driven and setting an example for the community.

The ECS were all built as living campuses, so students and staff at each school contribute to the care of the campus. Since seeing ECMS Inglewood’s success with the Table to Farm composting program, their other two sites have picked up the same strategy. Now that the team is comfortable with this model, they’re bringing it back to the community.

“We were thinking, it starts with involvement from the community, so how do we bring it back to the community?” says Tunioli. The banana trees, fava beans, squash, blackberries and other in-season produce at ECMS Inglewood are already growing and feeding students’ families. When the pandemic allows, this food will be available to anyone at a farmers market on their campus.

Although this model is only operating at ECS, it’s a shining example for other community composting and garden initiatives. ECS also has a high school in Lawndale and another middle school in Gardena. According to Giles-Jones: “There’s definitely plans to expand and extend community gardens to our other two sites as well.”