Philomath High School Compost Project

By Teresa Matteson | August 20, 2008
PHS Compost Team (left to right): John Kish, Brian Wakefield, Alison Priewe, with teachers Jeff Mitchell and Molly O’Malley.

The Environmental Protection Agency awarded the Benton County Health Department an Environmental Justice Grant in 2004. One goal of the grant was to increase high school students’ awareness and knowledge of local environmental issues. Benton County Health Department recruited Philomath High School juniors for a compost research project. The students selected topics, wrote literature reviews and contacted professionals in the community to serve as their mentors. Research projects designed around the students’ interests became the foundations for their senior project presentations in May 2007.

One of the concerns that prompted this grant was the contamination of Oak Creek by the Oregon State University Dairy Barns. Philomath High School (PHS) students helped fulfill the Environmental Justice Grant goal by studying the transformation of raw manure into compost in collaboration with Shepard Smith of Soil Smith Services. Smith mixed manure from the Oregon State University Dairy Barns with chicken manure and curb-side recycled leaves from Allied Waste of Corvallis, Oregon. An objective of the PHS project was to look at how the composting process could reduce the potential environmental hazards of livestock manure.

Shepard Smith’s compost pile: 5 feet high and roughly 160 feet in length.

A group of three high school seniors worked with teachers and community mentors to set up a series of studies, interpret results, and create a method of displaying their results. Benton County Environmental Health participated in the implementation of the research and provided some of the supplies for the studies. The students used this project to complete the “Senior Project/Extended Application” graduation requirement at PHS. Showcasing the students’ projects on the Benton Soil and Water Conservation District (BSWCD) website and linking it from the Benton County Environmental Health Solid Waste website will create a much larger audience than the Grant originally anticipated. This website highlights the work of two students, John Kish and Brian Wakefield.

The students’ first tasks were figuring out which aspects of the compost should be monitored and how sampling should be conducted. The students collected compost samples for three months, beginning one month after the pile was built. The students studied the toxicity of compost leachate to Daphnia, the concentrations of ammonium- and nitrate-nitrogen leached from the pile, the presence of fecal coliforms, and varieties and populations of several invertebrates. These tests provided data on the quality of the compost product and the potential for composting to reduce environmental harm.

Working with Teresa Matteson, from the Benton SWCD, the students developed a randomized method for taking samples from the compost pile. The pile was divided into 16 sections, and every two weeks, they sampled from 4 randomly selected areas. Samples were taken from inside the pile with sterile equipment. For a discussion of the sampling and mixing procedure see the Field Sampling Techniques. Additional preparation was made in the school laboratories. Several of the experiments required a liquid form of compost. This leachate was created by running 800 ml of distilled water through 1250 ml of compost. Samples were used immediately or frozen for later analysis.

Read about the PHS Compost Project. (You will need to scroll down a bit. Look for “Benton County, Oregon – PHILOMATH HIGH SCHOOL COMPOST PROJECT” near the end of the page).

About the Author

Teresa Matteson

In 2001, I uprooted my family and moved to Corvallis to pursue a Master’s in Soil Science at OSU. Food waste composting research married with scholarly escapades into soil physics, chemistry and biology prepared me to be a member of the Benton SWCD Team. My passion is to revive regard for soil.

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