Life Lab

Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education.

How Do Schools Compost?

A senior intern at Life Lab, Savannah Rugg, created a composting in schools survey (still open!) to better understand how composting functions in schools and school-districts. The survey asks questions regarding types of composting, compost materials, compost management, and compost curriculum. The results to the school compost survey are summarized in the charts below. It appears that most schools are either using compost as an educational tool in the school garden or use the compost to effectively divert food waste from landfills. Attempting to do both on site seems to be the challenge because of funding and timing issues.

To see up to date response data click here!

Check out the ultimate school composting resource page for information about school and school district wide composting programs, bin designs, and compost curriculum!

Types of School Composts

Of the 48 schools surveyed (as of page creation date of 3/2014) 87.5% had compost piles, 54.2% had vermicompost systems, and 29% used other forms of composting. Many schools did a combination of vermicomposting and compost piles. The other category had three responses that use compost tumblers, two have their compost picked up by a municipal garbage company, and one has an earth tub.


Nitrogen Sources

Most green materials for school compost are sourced from garden waste. Cafeteria waste made during meal prep and lunch room waste are the second highest contributors.



Schools source most their carbon materials from garden waste followed by paper material and school landscaping waste. It is exciting to see that school paper material is the second highest contributor of carbon sources for school because their paper is recycled on site.



Most schools can often source all the materials needed to make their compost on campus, which makes the process even more sustainable!



Maintaining a school compost can be a difficult task. Our survey showed those that take most part in school compost are paid garden coordinators and parent or community volunteers. Of the schools surveyed, 79.2% had students somewhat involved in the composting project.

How is your school compost managed over summer?

Numerous schools have parent or teacher volunteers that come during the summer to water and turn the compost. Also, paid garden coordinators and service-corps members take responsibility for the compost over summer. See the live data here to view up-to-date suvery responses.

How do you incorporate compost into your lesson plan?

See the responses to this survey question that list composting lesson ideas for all different ages. Many schools assign the responsibility of the compost to a single grade. This gives the students a sense of ownership in the process, and are more likely to grasp composting concepts when tied into lesson plans.

What is the main obstacle you have in running your school compost?

These responses regarding obstacles faced by schools while running school composts show that inconsistency of management is one of the main problems. This is often the case because there are no funds to pay a garden coordinator or it is hard to find a reliable volunteer.

Our survey is still open! We want to know about your school compost, so the garden education community can better understand how we use and would like to use composting in our schools. To see the live data as more contribute to the survey click here!

Please share stories about school compost successes and issues in the comments section below!

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Teaching a Growing Classroom Workshop at @OakSpringGardenFoundation in collaboration with I feel like I’ve fallen into a small French village. This is the former estate of Paul and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon in Virginia. Mrs. Mellon was an avid horticulturalist who designed the White House Rose Garden! I am staying in the room where Jackie Kennedy stayed when she visited here!! Sharing a weekend in this space with teachers who love kids and gardens is a truly unforgettable experience. ... See MoreSee Less

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Just when I thought we’d seen it all ... this is an agrophotovoltaic school garden underneath massive solar panels at @Manzo.Ecology in Tucson. The elementary school students here gather and analyze data on how the shade from the panels helps the plants grow and how the plants help cool the panels and increase their efficiency. What?!?! It’s amazing and gives me hope. Oh, and also they have a desert tortoise in their courtyard. ... See MoreSee Less

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Have you heard?! Life Lab is one of New Leaf Community Markets' recipients of their EnviroToken program at their Westside Santa Cruz store! So get your shopping on, bring your reusable bags, and donate 10¢ to Life Lab with every bag you use! Thank you, New Leaf!
#thankyou, #grateful, #ReduceReuseRecycle, #isupportlifelab
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What happens when Whole Kids Foundation partners with you to bring 50+ leaders from School Garden Support Organizations from across the country together to get to talk shop, inspire each other, problem-solve around shared challenges, and eat amazing food prepared and served by happy 5th graders? MAGIC. That's what happens. #sgso2018 ... See MoreSee Less

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Have you heard?! Life Lab is one of New Leaf Community Markets' recipients of their EnviroToken program for their Westside Santa Cruz store! So get your shopping on, bring your reusable bags, and donate 10¢ to Life Lab with every bag you use! Thank you, New Leaf!
#thankyou, #grateful, #ReduceReuseRecycle, #isupportlifelab
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We are so grateful to be starting 2018 with such strong support! Because of so many generous gifts from our supporters like you, we surpassed our 2017 fundraising goal of $124,000, with all campaign donations totaling $125,835.

These funds will help make Life Lab field trip and summer camp programs possible for children from families and schools that could otherwise not afford them. We believe that ALL children deserve the chance to love learning, healthy food, and nature. Thanks to your support, this year we will serve even more children in Santa Cruz County and across the nation.


#beapartofit, #startingstrong, #changinglives, #isupportlifelab
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Happy almost 2018, Life Lab fans! We are only $809 dollars away from reaching our $124,000 year-end fundraising goal! Before you ring in the new year, will you help us ensure a promising 2018? 100% of the funds necessary to do this important work come from grants and from individuals like you. Will you join us in ensuring that we can continue to deepen and expand our reach, so that even more children can experience the joy of loving learning, healthy food, and nature? Your tax-deductible gift made by midnight tonight will go directly to supporting our programs.
#beapartofit, #changinglives, #optoutside, #gardenbasededucation, #happynewyear
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Life Lab has been the most innovative and relevant organization in this field. From providing the best curriculum to their cutting edge professional development, we have relied on Life Lab as our go to organization for support, ideas, and collaboration.
Rachel PringleSenior Director of ProgramsEducation Outside
Life Lab provides truly inspiring training. Their breadth of experience, joy for teaching, and commitment to sharing knowledge highlight the best practices in food and garden education.
Erica CurryTraining and Professional Development ManagerFoodCorps
Thank you for such a wonderful field trip experience! Your leaders did such a great job at keeping our kids engaged.
Sheila BrickenKindergarten TeacherSan Lorenzo Valley Elementary
Terry had another awesome two weeks at Life Lab. I think he learns more there than in any other part of his year. School is great, but he’s passionate (and often dogmatic) about what he learns there.
Tara NeierCamp ParentSummer camp mom