The Human Ecology Capstone (HEC), an independent research project, is the culmination of every Chewonki semester student’s academic experience. The HEC invites students to step outside disciplinary boundaries, delve deeply into an area of interest, develop critical thinking skills, share their learning with others, and contribute to natural and human communities in Maine and beyond. Many students continue the work they began for their HEC after they return to their communities and schools. That’s what Sem. 56 student Avi Bond did. After learning about the power of composting at Chewonki, she took it home.
At Maine Coast Semester, Avi got used to throwing her leftovers into the compost bucket after meals and then dumping those buckets at our farm the next day during chores. She began to understand the poetry and practicality of composting. For her HEC, she dug into its benefits, studying restaurant food waste. “I learned of the economic benefit composting would provide to restaurants, apart from the obvious environmental impact,” she says.
Her interest in a compost revolution didn’t stop when she left Chewonki. Back in her hometown in Illinois, she “immediately wanted my family to begin composting,” she says. “But since we do not have a garden to utilize the compost, I thought it would be useless.” Then Avi heard about about a nearby community garden. She contacted the organizers and learned that they accepted residential food scraps for their compost pile. She also found out that “all the produce generated in this garden goes directly to food banks and shelters, and the project is completely volunteer-run.” Remembering what she’d learned at Chewonki about food insecurity, Avi was off and running.
To boost the size of the composting operation, she invited friends and neighbors to participate. “I was surprised to receive a lot of excited emails fairly quickly…,” she comments. “[P]eople made comments along the lines of, ‘I have always thought about composting but never really got around to it!’” She gave each interested household a bucket and a list of tips and guidelines. She now does bi-weekly and weekly pickups for 10 families.
The story doesn’t end there. Avi understands that building sustainable communities takes hard work over time. She’ll continue to recruit new composters even as she tries to figure out how to keep the project going through the winter. She hopes to make a proposal to the town council, asking them to support composting, perhaps by providing a compost bin to every household and establishing a much larger composting site. “I’ve also thought that [a town-wide operation] could help create jobs by giving individuals the task of helping at this site,” she says. “I look forward to seeing how we can make my town more sustainable, and I am grateful for the platform that Chewonki provided me in working to achieve this.”
Many other Maine Coast Semester alumni have hatched plans of action for their home and school communities after they worked on their semester HEC. It’s a powerful way to take Chewonki out into the world. Thank you, Avi!