Since my last blog update, I have been researching educational theory and STEM educational practices. Through this research, the concept of ‘Experiential’ or “Hands-on’ education has become a central theme. The premise is that experiential education is a way to supplement formal, facts-based learning with the goal of increasing the understanding of this knowledge. In this research, I assert that experiential learning does more than just increase understanding of scientific processes, but empowers learners to own and become stewards of this knowledge.
So, what does this mean for composting and food waste? Compost is a fundamentally hands-on process, but can appear abstract on paper. It is recycling in which people can become engaged through every step of the process from food to soil, and back to food. While we struggle with participation in food waste recycling, it is experiential learning of the process which can help people understand it uses and thus empower them to participate.
This project has required a great amount of collaboration with my mentor. My biggest struggle is trying to articulate and organize my ideas and findings into a paper. In my meetings with Professor Dupuis, we do brainstorming sessions on the whiteboard where these ideas flush out and take a more clear shape. She helps me recognize the connections in my ideas and in turn empowers me to investigate further. In a sense, it is much like experiential learning where engaged problem solving prompts a greater understanding of my research, and greater motivation to continue.
Food waste management is a huge operation with many moving parts, and the success of each part is heavily reliant on the others. In this research, we split these parts into levels; grassroots, intermediate, and city level operations. We found that each level supplies a different type of education process and different levels of engagement which fit together to form the larger conversation about food waste. We’re really focusing in on the education aspect of food waste management, and our current goal for this project is to understand the value in each level of education. We want to define what it means to be “compost literate”, and further to identify the key components of compost education. We also want to explore the educational role of being able to see the entire closed loop of food waste composting. That is, seeing the process from start to finish, from food to soil. The ultimate goal is to find the most successful and efficient methods of educating people about what is in their soil, and getting people to understand why they should care.
At this point in the research we know the challenges to achieving food waste composting, operationally speaking. Through interviews we found that community gardens, non-profit organizations, and waste carting businesses all experience temporal and spatial issues regarding their resources to compost and their capacity to process large amounts of food waste. Now that we have identified our interest in the education components of these organizations, it is time to go back and conduct more interviews with community gardens. We found that the weight of the education process seems to be leaning on the grassroots organizations (community gardens) as a foundation, so through more interviews we will be exploring in depth what that role means.