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MUM student Monica Moscovici is well on her way to revolutionizing how Maharishi University composts the waste from Annapurna dining hall.

The campus greenhouses

The story of MUM’s compost is one filled with turbulence. The school works to compost as much food as possible, however, the way that they’ve done this has varied. Many students have started composting groups, only to have them later fall apart due to lack of organization. Currently, Annapurna relies on an outside provider for compost production.

“A student composting group has been started many times before, but no one went through with it, so the school is reluctant,” said Monica. She is hoping to change that. Her senior capstone project aims to create a new position of Compost Coordinator. This Coordinator would organize work all over campus and create a framework for the years to come, paving the way for on-campus composting well in the future.

Monica and Chris emptying scraps into the spreader

I visited Monica by the Argiro Student Center, behind the dining hall. There are 5 large, yellow containers of food from the day’s breakfast and lunch sitting on the loading dock. They are filled with pieces of vegetables, beans, and tortillas from today’s Mexican-themed menu. Monica and fellow Sustainable Living student Chris Youhanna load these containers into the back of a truck, and we are on our way to the campus greenhouses. Student Kim Sowinski has also been a great help in this effort.

Right now, Monica is able to get close to 40% of the wasted food from the dining hall. On a typical day, she takes anywhere between 7 and 9 containers of food – and that’s just from breakfast and lunch. Dinner currently is not taken. Plans are being made to get an even higher percentage of food.

At the greenhouses, the food is dumped into the bed of a manure spreader. Monica jumps into a small orange tractor and drives to the other side of the buildings to scoop some wood chips from a pile. She spreads them on top of the food. She and Chris will layer the food and chips every day for several days, until the spreader is full. Then, it is time to take the compost to the field where the main piles are located.

“I’m new at this,” she says with a laugh as she steps out of the tractor, “Steve is road legal, so he’ll drive the tractor to the field.” We take a shortcut through the woods to a farm behind campus, and are joined in just a few minutes by Steve McLaskey and his tractor. He backs the tractor up to the youngest pile, turns on the spreader, and dumps the food into place (as seen in the image at the top of this blog).

Monica sticks a thermometer into the new pile. Due to the decomposition process, compost piles reach a high heat. This one is at the ideal temperature – about 130 degrees Fahrenheit. At 160 degrees, it will spontaneously combust. This is why it is important that the compost is regularly inspected and turned. Monica records the temperature measurements in a journal filled with numbers and contemplates whether or not to cover the pile for the night.

Chris helping Monica to scoop wood chips

Monica and Steve point out the new things that they’ll need to make the compost operation a booming success. A concrete slab, a compost turner, and another tractor are on the list. They are hoping that, after Monica presents her senior capstone project to the university, the campus composting program can be greatly improved and that these things will be obtained.

After seeing the new pile, we visit two that have been in place for a longer period of time. Compost takes about 3 months to mature. One of the piles isn’t quite there yet, while another is almost done decomposing and has reached a temperature of only 55 degrees. Monica scoops up some dirt from within the pile, and it has a clean and pleasant smell. It is clear that the piles are doing their job and creating fresh, healthy soil for the school to use.

If there’s one thing that’s impressive about Maharishi University, it is the drive of the students and faculty to improve not only the university campus, but also the world at large. Through her hard work, Monica is making a difference in how the entire community looks at composting.