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NMSU composting worm bins project brings students, community together

The Cooperative Extension Service at New Mexico State University recognize the importance of teaching newer and older generations the importance of sustainability as part of their Extension outreach efforts.



John R. Allen, program director of Hidalgo County Cooperative Extension Service, partnered with two elementary schools to set up a composting worm bin, which students kindergarten to fourth grade, have to care for and use it as a learning tool.

The Cooperative Extension Service at New Mexico State University partnered with two elementary schools in Hidalgo county to set up worm bins and teach students life science, gardening and composting, integrating as many activities and subjects as possible. (Courtesy Photo)

John R. Allen, program director of the Hidalgo County Cooperative Extension Service, partnered with two elementary schools to set up a composting worm bin, which students kindergarten to fourth-grade have to care for and use as a learning tool.

“I, personally, have had a composting worm bin for about seven years and manage a big community garden, so I thought using the worm bin would be a great tool to teach children not only about composting and life sciences, but also about responsibility because they have to take of the worms. In connection with 4-H, they learn about animal husbandry and biology, and in the classroom, they learn how to find credible sources online and write about composting, for example. Teachers love how this appeals to different learning styles,” Allen said.

This ongoing project is in its second year, and students learn about science, gardening and composting, integrating as many activities and subjects as possible.

“Composting is a wonderful teaching tool because you can use it to introduce and explain concepts as far-reaching as the life cycle, the importance of decomposition, soil amendment, recycling, resource management, garbage and landfills and biodegradable and non-biodegradable items,” said Amanda Allen, fourth-grade teacher at Animas Elementary.

Allen also provides reading material such as illustrated books about worms so children learn how to take care of them and how worms live and interact in the soil. Throughout the year, Allen goes to the classroom to assist teachers and incorporate different activities, such as the biology and reproduction of worms.

“We are learning about a worms environment and how they contribute to our Earth. We have talked about the importance of how worms need air, water, shelter and food, while learning about another resource to recycle is food,” said Dana M. Arredondo, fourth- grade teacher at Lordsburg Elementary. “Students have been bringing in food composts and notice how the compost assists in the worm’s growth and environment. There is also a plant growing in the worm compost and the students are curious as to how it can grow without direct sunlight. The worm bin also incorporates with math, since students calculate how much food to give and how long it took them to eat it.”

Children learn collaboration and at the end of the school year, the fourth-grade class can sell compost tea bags and worms to raise about $100 to attend an educational field trip.

“Extra funds are used to help offset startup cost or go back into your 4-H programming,” Allen said. “Everything is used for the benefit of education.”

Allen knows the value of education and uses the worm bins for presentations to adult gardening groups, educating them about the ease and benefits of worm composting.

“I mostly focus on the worm composting process for home gardeners. With the adults we build some worm bins out of storage totes and get them set up and ready to go,” Allen said. “They are then given out as door prizes and thus far I have made and given out 17 worm bins to workshop participants in Southern New Mexico.”

Composting worm bins are an educational tool for all ages, Allen said, with the potential to bring together communities.