Smilie School Garden Probable Casualty of Contaminated Compost
Some home gardeners are reeling after learning they'll lose their vegetable patches to contaminated soil from Green Mountain Compost. That disappointment is particularly acute at Smilie Memorial School in Bolton, where the school used a $7300 grant from Fletcher-Allen Health Care to build their first-ever garden this spring.
The grant, aimed at improving kids' eating habits and combating obesity, enabled the school to hire a garden manager and build seven raised beds, which students filled with topsoil from GMC, as well as beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash and broccoli. Many of those plants had been started by Smilie's 80 pre-K and elementary school kids under grow lights, and were to be used in the lunch program.
"We're trying to get kids to eat more colors and fresh foods and provide the experience from seed-to-table," says school principal Mary Woodruff, who wrote for and received the grant, along with another from the Subaru Healthy Sprouts program. But once the starts were in the ground, garden manager Bronwyn McKeown noticed that something "wasn't quite right," according to Woodruff, as leaves curled and bush beans withered and died.
Once they learned about the contaminated soil, and the culprit was clear. "We were just heartbroken," says Woodruff, who says that most of the plants, including the new raspberry patch, will probably need to be pulled out and the soil replaced. "But then you just have to say, what are we going to do next? The plan is to get this [soil] out of there and get new soil in and salvage what we can."
It was just over a week ago when Green Mountain Compost, an extension of the Chittenden Solid Waste District, suspended sales after finding out that its bulk compost and soil — most of which arrives in the form of trimmings and scraps from CSWD — had likely been contaminated by a persistent herbicide, the type of potent, long-lasting weed killer sometimes used on farms.