From com­post heap to gar­den to fall feast — to a ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal award

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - GREEN PAGE - By Alexan­dra Paul

MAYBE the harsh win­ter light, the dirty snow and the un­re­lent­ing cold made the garbage look worse than it was. The court­yard at Sisler High School was heaped high with crusty snow, dried-out bagels, brown ap­ple cores and black banana peels. It looked like a garbage dump. But in a cor­ner where the snow had melted to brown earth and brick walls, there was a pile of op­ti­mism: left­overs neatly shov­elled into a win­ter com­post heap. For a group of four Grade 12 girls and their teacher, this com­post was a sym­bol of the en­vi­ron­men­tal change they are liv­ing. Sisler’s sus­tain­abil­ity pro­gram won one of the prov­ince’s top con­ser­va­tion awards this win­ter. The win­ter com­post heap and the pro­gram are the ef­forts of Lauren Sawchuk, a home eco­nom­ics teacher, and her cadre of stu­dent lead­ers. The 2013 Man­i­toba Ex­cel­lence in Sus­tain­abil­ity Awards were handed out at the leg­is­la­ture in March at a cer­e­mony with Con­ser­va­tion Min­is­ter Gord Mack­in­tosh. This year’s Cham­pion for Sus­tain­abil­ity was Sawchuk. The teacher cre­ated a re­cy­cling pro­gram that turned into 101 daily tasks for stu­dents and turned them on to the en­vi­ron­ment at the same time. Stu­dents com­post, gar­den, re­cruit helpers and cook and feed the home­less. The ef­fort is driven by vol­un­teers. They or­ga­nize cells with stu­dent lead­ers who re­cruit other stu­dents to work on var­i­ous tasks. With 50 stu­dents at Sisler in­volved this spring at var­i­ous tasks in cells of four, the work gets spread around. Ev­ery day, ev­ery­one in the re­cy­cling army works per­haps an ex­tra hour at school af­ter classes. Sawchuk’s stu­dent lead­ers say their ca­reer goals and home life are in­flu­enced by the lessons she’s taught. “Af­ter school? What­ever I do, I want it to be sus­tain­able, what­ever ca­reer I’m go­ing into,” said Roveen Cheema, 18. Keisha Men­doza, 17, has a worm farm she tends at home to make com­post; a cou­ple of Rub­ber­maid tubs rigged up with tubes to col­lect worm pee — some­thing she and the other three girls del­i­cately call “com­post tea.” “We sell them, the ‘vermi’ com­post sys­tem, and we give the worms along with it,” Men­doza said. The two, along with Char­maine Agsalud and Lisa Huang, work af­ter school and ev­ery sum­mer. They’ve or­ga­nized cap­tains for small groups of stu­dents to main­tain the com­post prac­tices and spread the word about the other pro­grams. They do it for fun. “We all started with this lit­tle gar­den and what mo­ti­vates us is we’re do­ing this with our friends and we all re­ally have a good time,” Men­doza said. Sandy Hull, an­other Sisler teacher, who hap­pened to walk by the day the crew at the snowy com­post heap, stopped to say the whole school is part of the ef­fort now. “Kids ac­tu­ally go look­ing for com­post bins. You see them af­ter a snack or if they have an or­ange peel or an ap­ple core. Rather than throw­ing it in the garbage, they go out of their way to find a com­post bin, be­cause they want to be re­spon­si­ble,” Hull said. Agsalud added she and her fel­low stu­dent lead­ers al­ready have one goal in hand, thanks to the dis­ci­pline they’ve learned. Each of them was ac­cepted to the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba this fall. Sawchuk is an en­er­getic woman who speaks with a lot of hand ges­tures. Ask her how this started and she’ll take you back a few years and give you an up­date in a stac­cato blast that sums up years of work in mere sec­onds. “It just kind of un­folded,” Sawchuk said, de­scrib­ing a Grade 9 class three years ago that fo­cused on the con­cepts of fair trade. “It was the be­gin­ning,” she said. Sawchuk re­called teach­ing the class about the im­por­tance of con­sumers se­lect­ing ser­vices and prod­ucts based on fair wages and en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able prac­tices. “One thing led to an­other,” she said. “And I fig­ured I could get some kids in­ter­ested in these other ideas about sus­tain­abil­ity.” That year, Sawchuk put spade to earth at the school to start a sim­ple veg­etable gar­den. When school broke for sum­mer, the kids still came back to tend the new gar­den. “When you have kids show up in the sum­mer to gar­den, you re­al­ize you have kids who are mo­ti­vated. “We had the gar­den and then we had a use for com­post... then, with all the stuff from the gar­den, we had a feast and that be­came an an­nual fall feast,” Sawchuk said. The sus­tain­able work now done at the school in­cludes grow­ing the gar­den, mak­ing the com­post, putting to­gether com­post kits, har­vest­ing veg­eta­bles, plan­ning and cook­ing for the fall feast, not to men­tion a cook­ing pro­gram three times a month and an Earth Day event where Sisler hosts an an­nual con­fer­ence and in­vites other schools. If it sounds hec­tic, it is. “These girls are plan­ning a school con­fer­ence for 150, for one day, so we’re busy. And my class­room kids are also mak­ing soup, cook­ies and bis­cuits and these kids will go down there and feed the home­less,” the teacher said. The 2013 Man­i­toba Ex­cel­lence in Sus­tain­abil­ity awards hon­our people and projects that find prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tions for the prov­ince’s sus­tain­abil­ity prin­ci­ples as out­lined in its con­ser­va­tion pol­icy doc­u­ment, known as the Green Plan. The award is a sim­ple glass win­dow solidly mounted on a glass bracket. And Sawchuk held it proudly the day the com­post heap was pho­tographed.

“It’s for all of us,” Sawchuk said. Then she hur­ried off to the next task.


Sisler High School teacher Lauren

Sawchuk with stu­dents Roveen Cheema, Char­maine Agsalud, Lisa

Huang and Keisha Men­doza.

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