Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

May 19, 2011

Flathead extension after-school program teach kids about the fine art of worm composting

By Lailani Upham

(L to R clockwise) Levi Trahan, Ronan elementary teacher Jane Whaling, Daniell Gardipe, Flathead Reservation Extension Program Brenda Richey, Leonard Burke, and Isaac Cordova get ready to dive their hands into the home of the compositing worm pail during Ms. Whaling's after school class last Thursday. (Lailani Upham photo)
(L to R clockwise) Levi Trahan, Ronan elementary teacher Jane Whaling, Daniell Gardipe, Flathead Reservation Extension Program Brenda Richey, Leonard Burke, and Isaac Cordova get ready to dive their hands into the home of the compositing worm pail during Ms. Whaling's after school class last Thursday. (Lailani Upham photo)

RONAN — After school students at Ronan K. Wm. Harvey Elementary found out earthworms were not only good for fish bait, but they were one of nature’s top “soil scientist.”

The Flathead Reservation Extension program assistant Brenda Richey worked with a group of after school students for six weeks with a hands-on learning experience on vermicomposting, or also known as worm compositing.

Richey stated the group was extra intrigued with the project, “They were the only school to ask for extra work, and asked to keep the worms and take care of them for the six weeks.”

The group of students took on the responsibility and taking the greatest care of the worms by feeding them and keeping the soil moist twice a week, Richey said.

Students learned worms love to eat peels from fruits and veggies and cornmeal, oatmeal and most of the time crushed egg shells, and they are like free farm help.

Students also learned that in vermicomposting, worms help to increase air and water that gets into the soil. Worms break down organic matter, like leaves and grass, and turn into things that plants can use. After eating, the worms leave behind castings that are a valuable type of fertilizer.

(L to R) Lene Trahan, Daniell Gardipe and Isaac Cordova get a closer look at the wiggly worms at work. (Lailani Upham photo)
(L to R) Lene Trahan, Daniell Gardipe and Isaac Cordova get a closer look at the wiggly worms at work. (Lailani Upham photo)

The project is part of the 4-H Afterschool program as a special effort to help youth achieve social, emotional, physical and academic success while developing healthy lifestyles and behaviors.

The Flathead Reservation Extension is a federally-recognized Tribal Extension Program (FRTEP) that supports extension agents on American Indian reservations and tribal jurisdictions. FRTEP’s goals are to address the unique needs by placing an emphasis on assisting Natives in the development of profitable farming and ranching techniques, providing 4-H and youth development experiences for tribal youth, and providing outreach on tribally-identified priorities using a culturally sensitive approach, such as family resource management and nutrition.

Renee Kittle, MSU Flathead Reservation Extension agent and Richey work with children in the schools throughout the year and in summer youth programs to cultivate students in agricultural lessons.

“Not only did we learn about worms and take care of the compost center, we made bean dip, different kinds of glue, paper, and butter. We all looked forward to our "Miss Brenda" days because we knew there would be a fun hands-on learning activity,” said Ronan teacher, Jane Whaling.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, 4-H is one of the largest youth development programs in the world, with almost 7 million members. It operates through the Cooperative Extension System (CES), a partnership of county, state, and federal governments, the land-grant universities, and private sectors. Since 1902, 4-H has empowered youth to learn in partnering with caring adults.

Richey holds up a jar of "worm tea" that is made from the liquid that is drained once or twice a week from the vermicast or worm casting to be used as a natural fertilizer. Students raise their hands enthusiastically to answer questions Richey asks about the six week project with the after school group at Ronan Elementary. (Lailani Upham photo)
Richey holds up a jar of "worm tea" that is made from the liquid that is drained once or twice a week from the vermicast or worm casting to be used as a natural fertilizer. Students raise their hands enthusiastically to answer questions Richey asks about the six week project with the after school group at Ronan Elementary. (Lailani Upham photo)

The Flathead Reservation Extension program offers learning opportunities all over the community. In the spring, during the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ annual River Honoring, students from inside and outside the Reservation gather to learn about the history and personal connection of the Salish and Kootenai people with the Flathead River.

Students also gain environmental, health, and cultural understanding during the two-day event at different stations on site.

During the River Honoring, the Flathead Reservation Extension sets up a station for students to learn about the water cycle, stream and bank zone vegetation function, fish and wildlife habitat, and livestock and crop production in riparian areas. Using a riparian/erosion trailer as a teaching tool, students compare a well-vegetated stream bank to a stream bank lacking in vegetation, and they witness erosion in progress. Students eagerly accept the challenge to create a healthy meandering stream with vegetation along the banks.

“The six week class that Brenda did with my after school group was fun and engaging for the students,” Whaling said.

For more information or to book an educational presentation with the Flathead Reservation Extension program on nutrition, food safety, horticulture, agriculture, natural resources, riparian education, and business education, please contact Rene Kittle or Brenda Richey at (406) 275-2756 or (406) 675-2700 ext. 7375.

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