Last year, students at Willard Elementary School transformed roughly 1,000 pounds of food into 100 pounds of compost. That hundred pounds of composted material was used as fertilizer for a garden planted and tended by children enrolled in Willard’s summer school program.
Veggies and leafy greens were harvested throughout the summer season and into the fall. Some were used for a harvest dinner event involving summer-school students and their parents — a party that produced lots of leftovers.
A portion of those leftovers were brought over to the River Forest Fire Department, where one firefighter admitted to a personal fondness for gardening. In fact, he offered to donate some raspberry canes from his own garden to the summer school garden project.
They’ve since been planted in the Willard garden.
“So it’s come full circle. Not only full circle — the lunch waste is now decomposed and fertilizing the garden, but then the vegetables and herbs from our garden were brought to the fire department and then they gave us plants back. It’s been a really nice connection,” said Keary Cragan, a member of Green4Good, a district-wide parents committee designed to encourage environmentally friendly practices in River Forest public schools. The committee is responsible for such initiative as the composting program, the community garden, increased recycling efforts within the schools, and a clothing drive that collects old jeans and sneakers and sends them away for repurposing.
“In the first couple of years, it was just a couple of people. But the more it grows, it’s just getting stronger,” said Green4Good President Julie Moller.
The secret, she said, is that many individual members have specific green issues to which they are particularly dedicated. “It’s really a great group of people who have so many angles,” Moller said. “Mine is waste.”
She’s been composting at home for 12 years, and while many other aspects of her life veer toward the greener good, including her preference for organic food and vigilant recycling habits, turning food into fertilizer rather than landfill fare is her clear mission.
Individual environmental committees tackle issues at each of the three River Forest public schools, and Green4Good represents the district-wide collaboration. “We should all be doing the same things, all three schools,” said Moller of the initial idea that sparked the collaboration.
Two years ago, that alliance came together to plan the district’s first Earth Week, “to promote good green practices,” Moller said. The tradition has continued ever since. This year, Earth Week will take place April 18-21. “Whenever we have a district-wide initiative, it’s called Green4Good,” she said.
Individual efforts included making sure every classroom has a recycling bin, promoting zero-waste student lunches, and eliminating the usage of bottled water.
They haven’t quite achieved the last one yet, but they’re still hopeful. On Fridays, the only day of the week the district provides students with a hot lunch, the school formerly supplemented meals with bottled water. That means 700 bottles for 700 students. They’ve now switched to water coolers.
Both Moller and Cragan said they’re still working on the District 90 Board of Education, which offers bottled water to board members and guests who attend their bi-monthly meetings. “We have a supply of them,” was the response the Green4Good committee got when they asked the board about eliminating the bottled water. But the board said once their stockpile is exhausted, they won’t purchase anymore. Another Green4Good victory.
The clothing drive collects and recycles old sneakers and jeans. The sneakers are sent to Nike and repurposed to make sports turf for athletic fields. Newer sneakers are sent to Soles4Soles, a charity that distributes shoes to people in need.
The jeans are sent to Oak-Leyden Developmental Services and transformed into purses and bags by developmentally disabled employees.
Moller said school district staff and administrators have been very supportive, including Superintendent Thomas Hagerman. Anthony Cozzi, director of finances and facilities, has helped arrange school energy audits and hormone-free milk for students.
“He definitely always looks to see if there’s a green option,” Moller said.
It’s not always easy being green, even when it’s convenient to do so. Moller said she has stood between a trash can and recycling bin and watched a student throw a recyclable soda can into the trash. “It’s hard to change habits,” she said. But the group continues for forge ahead in their mission.
“We’re trying to make it easier for you,” Moller said. “The longer we do it, the more people are talking about it. And that makes it worth it.”