2,200-pound food waste dehydrator, vermiculture pods, solar array and greenhouse revolutionize rural high school STEM program
May 7, 2015 (Columbia S.C.) – Something massive — literally — is happening at Lower Richland High School (LRHS). As part of a 180-degree turnaround at the school, which now boasts the highest senior scholarship attainment rate in Richland County School District One. LRHS is putting the final touches on a game-changing initiative called the LifeCycle Innovation Project.
The project will reduce food waste by 50-70% or more, fueling unheard-of sustainability practices in the school, including a food waste dehydrator, vermiculture program, PaCE-funded solar array and solar-powered greenhouse growing operations. Launched in January 2015 through LRHS’ Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program and coordinated by EngenuitySC, the LifeCycle project is already making a major impact throughout the school and in the community. Students are logging significant service hours manning the dehydrator, worm room and more. More details below.
The Four Phases of the LifeCycle Loop:
- To start the new LifeCycle loop, a 2,200-pound food waste dehydrator, painted in LRHS’ signature golden yellow color, has been installed in LRHS’ cafeteria.
- Because LRHS’ industrial kitchen prepares food for eleven area schools, food waste for 5,000 meals is produced daily, including the 850-900 meals made for LRHS’ students.
- As of January 2015, that waste is now being reduced in volume by 50-70% after being “digested” by the dehydrator.
- The resulting compost is then used to fuel the vermiculture process – producing worm castings, the best fertilizer money can buy.
- A PaCE grant-funded solar array has been installed to power a restored greenhouse on campus.
- Excess power can be returned to the grid to offset LRHS’ utility bills.
- In the greenhouse, students use the high-grade worm casting fertilizer to grow fresh produce. Then, students from the culinary program and around campus can work with teachers to harvest and cook with the results.
This innovative LifeCycle loop takes students and staff on an adventure from food waste to food production. Project partners are hoping to reinforce the idea with students, parents, teachers, staff and members of the community that being environmentally conscious is not only morally right, but also financially savvy.
Who is Responsible:
Serving as lead project coordinator, EngenuitySC has collaborated with Richland County School District One, Richland County Council, LRHS Principal Kelvin Wymbs and his team, PaCE Energy Grant partners SCE&G, Duke Energy Carolina and Duke Energy Progress, and others over the last year.
How It Began:
The entire LifeCycle program started in earnest in June 2014 through conversations with SCE&G, and an application was submitted to PaCE for the solar array. Planning and permitting began in Fall 2014, installations began in January 2015, and execution is estimated to be completed by May 2015. It is estimated that the LifeCycle loop will be functioning at 100% by the start of the 2015-2016 school year.
EngenuitySC, a nonprofit organization focused on increasing the Midlands region’s competitiveness, provided a plan and timeline as well as project and collaboration management expertise, ensuring that the project could be executed on time and on budget.
“As lead project coordinator, we’ve been part of a dedicated team that has had major impact here,” notes Meghan Hughes Hickman, Executive Director of EngenuitySC. “We are just one piece of the puzzle, identifying local resources, providing “dot connection” services and bringing additional project management staff to the table.”
LifeCycle Project Details
Phase 1: The Food Waste Dehydrator
This step of the LifeCycle began on Jan. 14, 2015 with the school’s installation of their DHEC-approved Food Waste Dehydrator, painted in LRHS’ signature gold color, courtesy of Spartanburg area distributor Divergent Energy, LLC, which also provided subject matter expertise to the vermiculture program. The Food Waste Dehydrator is a 2,200 lb. machine with the sole purpose of dehydrating and decomposing waste from the school’s cafeteria, where school lunches are cooked for eleven area schools. In 5-9 hours, this machine silently reduces all types of food waste, from chicken bones to macaroni and cheese to compostable cardboard, into an odorless, coffee ground-like material, creating a perfect food source for the vermiculture beds used in the second phase of the project.
Phase 2: Vermicomposting in a Public High School
LLE Construction in Columbia renovated an unused room at the school with brand new wiring, fencing and paint to house a system of vermiculture pods, in which the food waste produced by the school’s dehydrator will be transformed into the best compost on the market. Each pod initially will be filled with approximately 20 pounds of red worms that will break down the compost into worm castings – a technique used by the most cutting-edge sustainable farms in the world. The worm castings function as an incredibly efficient and powerful all-natural fertilizer, which will have various purposes; it will be used in the school’s greenhouse, to fertilize the athletic fields and to raise revenue for the school as a product for sale. The project is scalable, as each pod can accommodate up to 100 lbs. of worms, and more pods can be added as needed.
Phase 3: PaCE Grant-Funded Solar Array
Lower Richland High School has installed its own solar array, made possible thanks to a Palmetto Clean Energy (PaCE) grant of $25,000. (PaCE partners are SCE&G, Duke Energy Carolina and Duke Energy Progress.) Sunstore Solar in Greer, S.C., was contracted as the local partner for solar array design and installation. Thirty Solar World 275-watt panels will result in an 8.25-kilowatt Solar Grid Tied Sell-All PV system. The solar array is set to produce energy for the school’s new greenhouse, and plans call for excess energy to be fed back into the power grid, potentially creating a credit to offset the school’s overall energy costs.
Phase 4: A Solar-Powered Greenhouse
A key piece to Lower Richland High School’s Life Cycle Innovation Project is the restoration of their on-campus greenhouse. The team at The Greenhouse Company of South Carolina, LLC completed an exhausting effort to replace the greenhouse’s cooling system, irrigation system, exterior covering, flooring – everything but the metal frame – as well as a technology update to ensure that the unit will not only function, but work as if it were brand new. The new greenhouse is a safe location for students to grow plants, fruits and vegetables.
Students will fertilize produce in the greenhouse using the worm castings, and culinary students will be able to reap the rewards. The culinary program at LRHS has been in place since the late seventies; it provides catering for school events and, of course, training for students in the culinary arts. 64 students participate in the culinary program, learning skills from sauces, baking and pastry to service, food safety and cost-conscious menu planning for Southern and global cuisines. Current senior Jada Robinson is bound for Johnson and Wales culinary school this Fall 2015.
Many other student groups are participating in the LifeCycle project. LRHS’ construction class of twelve students is building all of the benches for the greenhouse; the class is so effective that Richland County is considering hiring them to do specific project work in a few County parks, for example, 46 picnic tables and benches for Pinewood Park. Meanwhile, the special education class will be working to maintain the vermiculture and dehydrator operations, and engineering students were able to observe the installation process of the solar array.
The LifeCycle Innovation Project is part of an incredible turnaround that has been happening at the school since 2011, when it won a federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) from the U.S. Department of Education. The school made the decision to choose STEM (as well as IB and IBCC) as a major priority in its transformation. Two years into the grant led by Principal Wymbs and his team, Councilman Kelvin Washington came to EngenuitySC to help the school build an industry advisory board, after which point EngenuitySC was signed on to manage the holistic STEM project.
“At Lower Richland High School, our team is passionate about exposing students to STEM career opportunities in the region,” notes EngenuitySC Executive Director Meghan Hughes Hickman. “The goal is to help students forge career paths that can meet our future workforce needs here in the Midlands of South Carolina.”
Hickman adds, “The Lower Richland community has a rich agricultural history and has been very receptive to partnering with the school on the LifeCycle Innovation Project.” She continues, “We have been honored to work with regional partners to implement the school’s innovative ideas, and we are all extremely excited to see this project making a real and measurable impact.”
Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., EngenuitySC is a public-private partnership focused on enhancing our region’s economic competitiveness and prosperity. Through collaboration with business, government, higher education and community leaders, EngenuitySC builds partnerships and measures success around five indicators of competitive communities. Through our innovative process, unique vision and ability to create a plan and deliver results, EngenuitySC is working to build a more competitive and prosperous Midlands region. For more information, visit http://www.engenuitysc.com.
Contact: Tracie Broom, Flock and Rally, 415.235.5718, firstname.lastname@example.org