Creating a More Sustainable Campus

Creating a More Sustainable Campus

Several areas of the college are working together to create a more environmentally friendly campus through organic land care.

| By: Britten, Casey

While the campus landscape rests under a blanket of frost and snow this winter, it’ll get an extra boost of organic nourishment produced by a team of FVTC staff and students.

It’s part of a sustainable land care effort headed up by FVTC Horticulture instructor Chuck Stangel. While Chuck spearheads the process, it’s ultimately a collaborative effort between several areas of the college to create a more environmentally friendly and healthy campus; from start to finish, departments involved in this effort include Horticulture, Culinary Arts, Grounds Maintenance, and Welding.

“Between food waste and yard waste, this college produces a lot of compostable material,” explains Chuck. “The goal is to put it back in the ground to increase the organic matter content of the soil. If you can improve turf quality, you can reduce the need for pesticides and fertilizers.”

The Browns & Greens of Compost

It all starts in the kitchen. Each day, students in the FVTC Culinary Arts program generate about four five-gallon pails of compostable food waste. This includes eggshells, carrot and potato peels, melon rinds and other fruit and vegetable scraps.

“Our Culinary students are putting sustainable practices into play every day when they separate our organic waste from the trash,” says Mike Balistrieri, Culinary Arts department chair.

That food waste is then delivered to a compost pile at the south end of the Appleton campus, where it is mixed with excess grass clippings and leaves collected by the lawn crew. “This combination is what’s called the browns and greens of compost,” explains Chuck. 

Every two weeks, the raw materials are mixed and turned with a machine operated by Joe Kurscheidt, who heads up the FVTC grounds maintenance crew. Then after about a year, the compost is ready to be harvested.

The Challenge

“When I started working here, the composting process had already been in place for several years,” explains Chuck. “The problem was that it wasn’t small enough to spread. We had nowhere to go with it.”

Inspiration struck in September 2019 when Chuck was visiting Riverview Gardens in Appleton and saw a machine that breaks material down into finer material, making it spreadable. “It was exactly what we needed,” says Chuck. The machine had been custom-built for Riverview Gardens by students and faculty at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). “So we called MSOE and they graciously sent us their plans,” he adds.   

Chuck talked to Trent Schloss, who oversees the FVTC Welding department to explore how they might be able to help. Welding Instructional Aide Brandon Goerg took it on. “I thought it was a great challenge,” says Brandon. “We were able to get the original project charter documents from MSOE to see what Chuck was asking for. We visited Riverview Gardens to see their unit, took stock of materials we had on hand, I made some design changes and started fabrication.”

In the end, the Welding department built a soil sifting machine that breaks it down to a small, spreadable size. The machine saves the college money, reduces the use of fertilizer, and gives the students valuable class experience.

Most of the materials were either repurposed from other projects, custom fabricated here at FVTC, or donated to the college. Joe procured the gas engine and pulleys. The soil shaker frame was constructed of donated rectangular steel tube and steel angle iron that came from Lapham-Hickey steel in Oshkosh. The sheet steel used came from FVTC’s regular stock of material used for fabrication and welding program classes. Additional materials were sourced from MSC Industrial Supply, but most parts were custom designed and fabricated. The parts were then sent to Precision Powder Coat in Appleton for sandblasting and black color and were assembled and tested shortly after.

“We’re now able to produce about 10-15 cubic yards of rich Fox Valley Tech compost each year,” says Chuck. The compost is used in landscape and greenhouse projects as well as sold to raise funds for the Horticulture Club. However, most of the compost is blended into the turf as an organic enhancement here on campus after the turf has been aerated in the fall. This involves the use of several different aerators, a large volume compost spreader towed behind a vehicle and chain link drag mats.

Sustainability in Action

Best of all, students across disciplines learn the importance of sustainability.

“Sustainability in kitchens continues to trend as the industry learns to work closely with farmers and producers,” says Mike. “Projects like this show our Culinary students the simple steps and process that they can take to reduce waste, improve soil, and grow and serve better food to our guests.”  

“Fox Valley Tech Horticulture students are learning about and participating in something important and unique,” Chuck says, adding that no other college that he knows of is doing anything quite like this. “From beginning to end, we’re taking products that would have been considered waste and working them back into the land,” says Chuck. “In terms of a sustainable land care effort, if we can reduce costs and improve the environment, it’s a win-win.”