Shifting Children’s Thinking About Compost

Spring is just around the corner and it is the time to wake up the garden beds and plant some seeds! At their 6th Farm Visit of the school year, children from participating elementary schools were all fired up to dig up a wheelbarrow-load of compost for their garden beds and to tuck in their seeds to start new lives. The children were proudly using shovels, pushing wheelbarrows, and making a good dent in the huge compost pile sitting at the UBC Farm.

For most of the children, it was their first time working with compost soil and their initial impression for the big, mushy, and damp compost pile was not the best. Some children were sharing “fun facts” that the compost was made of  “poop” from different animals. While compost can be made from manure, ours was provided by Net Zero Waste, and made from organic waste from home and commercial green bins!

Despite their original unappealing expression toward the compost, the children forgot about it as soon as they started digging and shoveling the compost. Working as a team, they energetically and rapidly filled their wheelbarrows with compost and pushed their wobbly wheelbarrows to their garden beds. After that, they transferred all the compost on to their garden beds, mixed the compost with existing soil, raked the soil flat, and planted their seeds. During this process, no one mentioned anything about the cleanliness of the compost, and some students were even very excited to discover some exciting invertebrates in the compost!

In the afternoon, we taught the children how to make paper pots for indoor planting. After the pots were being made, the children were instructed to fill the pots with soil. While most adults know the difference between sterile potting mix and compost, most children see them all as just “dirt”.  But these children no longer saw soil as dirty! Unlike in the morning when they had gloves on, the children now used their bare hands to grab the soil! No one could resist doing this activity, not even the children who previously thought the compost had poop in it. We were amazed by this transformation!

On this Farm Visit, a paradigm shift occurred among the children: the compost, which they previously thought to be gross and smelly, became a land of discovery, an opportunity for teamwork, and gave them a huge sense of accomplishment as they now can cultivate new lives in their garden beds. At the end of the day, many students pointed out working around the compost was their favourite memory of the day!