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Compost use benefits campus

Nov. 9, 2004

By DEANNA LOWERY, reporter

"Look at my shoes! I've got these designer pants on, and my shoes are covered in ..." Lynn Woodward trailed off, gesturing at her mud-spattered black shoes and grinning widely. For eight years, Woodward served as supervisor of Baylor's flower beds crew, but she still has a passion for designing and cultivating the beds, a fact made evident by her dirt-stained hands.

Robyn Kenagy | Lariat staff
Baylor's grounds staff deposits compost on campus, which is not only more environmentally sound than chemical fertilizers, but also more cost effective.
Her somewhat disheveled appearance is explained when she admits, "I just got back from the compost pile."

Woodward is referring to the huge fermenting pile of leaves, discarded food and organic matter, which she called "yummy stuff," in a lot off River Street and Daughtrey Avenue. For the past three years, instead of bagging leaves and dumping them into a landfill, Woodward and her crew have been making a concerted effort to reduce the waste and put the nutrients from decaying leaves back into the soil.

"I'd gotten the fever of organics," she said.

This fever is quickly spreading around Baylor's 400-acre campus, where the use of the compost has saved the university a significant amount of money, according to both Woodward and Roy Gepner, mowing crew foreman.

"We spend a ton of money on fertilizers, so the compost really helps out," Gepner said.

He continued, "We don't have to pay for it to be hauled off. Not adding extra waste to landfill is another added benefit."

Using compost has reduced Baylor's use of chemical fertilizers, which Woodward said doesn't participate in the "natural cycle" as completely as compost.

And Gepner's seen the change as well.

"At the Stacy Riddle Forum, it seemed like nothing would flourish [in the flower beds]. But after adding the compost, we've really seen a big change," he said.

Woodward, however, is trying to do more than just make the campus aesthetically pleasing. She cited three benefits related to the recent removal of several on-campus parking lots. Woodward said planting the grass changes climate and water quality as well as provides a great beneficial change to the ecology of the area.

"[The grass] is supporting a whole ecosystem of living beings besides us humans lolling around on it," she said.

It also reduces the "heat island effect," which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's Web site, is a phenomenon that occurs "on hot summer days, [when] urban air can be up to 10°F hotter than the surrounding countryside ... Heat islands form as cities replace natural land cover with pavement, buildings, and other infrastructure."

However, one problem the grass presents, besides the parking irritations of students and faculty, are the hefty amounts of water invested during the initial planting and seeding.

"For the first month instead of watering three times week, we have to water three times day. But [the absence of asphalt] keeps the good old sun from burning up the grass," Gepner said.

Woodward and Gepner hope the campus will eventually become totally organic. Woodward is now moving to not only reuse organic material but to prevent biodegradable food products from the residence halls from being discarded.

"Do we just stand there and let the stuff get thrown away? No. Christ called us to be stewards," she said.

Woodward estimated she picks up 50 gallons of food per week from Collins Residence Hall and said she hopes to get food waste from all the halls, but only with the help of volunteers.

"I'm ad loco -- I'm calling to task the situation we find ourselves in," she said.