Where does all the excess food from Ullman Commons go?
Jacob Derksen has the answer.
With the help of religion professor Samuel Thomas and Sodexo, Derksen a 21-year-old biology major is setting up a worm compost project next to California Lutheran University’s SEEd garden.
The worms will live in a bin with food scraps placed over their habitat. They will slowly eat away at the various scraps and then throw up a rich casting that Derksen will use as fertilizer for the garden.
In order to aid in this worm composting project, Ullman Commons will separate out food waste that the worms can tolerate such as fruits, vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds and coffee lters.
Fatty foods and protein will create a poor environment for the worms and/or make their castings not as rich for the SEEd Garden’s soil, so they must be let out.
“The compost project is an effort to continue CLU’s goal of becoming a more sustainable campus,” Derksen said. “We’re going to try and divert about 20,000 pounds of organic food prep waste [away from] land fills in the next two years.
Derksen received a $5,000 grant from the Thousand Oaks government to buy a composting machine, or worm bin, that will take in organic waste from Ullman Commons and turn it into rich soil for the SEEd garden and plants across Cal Lutheran.
“We also have a budget at the SEEd garden that we can use, and some local organizations will be donating worms to us,” Derksen said. “With the amount of worms we’re getting that can be like $2,000 worth of worms.”
Currently, Ullman Commons uses a pulper to grind their food waste and then places it in a dehydrator for 24 hours to create a sawdust-like compost of excess food. They then spread it across the hillside adjacent to campus to fertilize the plants.
However this is seperate from the worm composting project.
“I think Dr. Thomas was aware that we were composting, and he knew what he needed for his worms,” Patti Yantzer, general manager for Sodexo said. “He approached us and asked if we could help him with food for his worms.”
Currently, the facilities at Cal Lutheran are building a shade structure to help control the worm’s environment and allow for optimal composting.
On March 14 trial runs of Derksen and Thomas’ worm composting project offcially began.
“Ever since the commons has been in the planning stages, it was part of the process and part of the intent to have this facility do some composting, some sustainable practices and that kind of thing,” Mark Jacobsen, director of Facilities and Management at Cal Lutheran, said.
That intention fit into Derksen’s love for supporting the earth.
“I have a really big passion for the environment and sustainability,” Derksen said. “That passion wasn’t enough. I wanted to actually convert that energy into a project where I could commit my time to.”
But for Derksen, converting that passion into an environmental project wasn’t always the plan.
“I actually went to Cal Lu for pre-med. So I was pre-med for a long time, and then I had Dr. Thomas for environmental ethics. I just started working with him—I came up with this project and kind of switched toward environmental biology,” Derksen said.
Now, this project has become a daily part of Derksen’s life. He said that almost every day he visits the garden, works on the logistics of the compost project or meets with omas.
“Jacob is a motivated and smart guy who wants to make a positive difference in the world,” Thomas said in an email interview. “He’s enthusiastic, reliable and has a good sense of humor—which is important when you’re dealing with worms and bureaucracies.”
Through this compost project Derksen said, “One thing that I’m gaining as well as the Cal Lu campus is increased sustainability as a school, and, I mean, we’ve already done a lot. The SEEd project is a cool thing already, but this is just adding to the sustainability initiative that Cal Lu is pursuing. For me, I love doing it, and it’s really cool because I get paid [as a] part of the staff. I get to do research on it and I have a lot of fun going out there so it feels like I’m not really working.”
Published March 16th, 2016