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Worm farm project turns into classroom business
Classroom-grown America’s Mega Potting Soil from Michele Madoski’s third-grade class at August Knodt School in Weston Ranch. - photo by Photo Contributed
WESTON RANCH — About 10 months ago, a group of 18 youngsters embarked on a learning project. Little did they know that project would evolve into a small business.

So they developed marketing and advertising strategies to maximize their profits. They came up with a creative name for their business and organic product: America’s Mega Potting Soil. They even designed a fancy, one-of-a-kind packaging for their unique product complete with an eye-catching logo to attract more buyers.

The business was a resounding success. The 18 enterprising young business people sold all 20 of their organic potting soil and used the profits to purchase a Sequoia tree that they donated to August Knodt Elementary School in Weston Ranch. The tree-planting was held on Wednesday without much fanfare.

There will be no more America’s Mega Potting Soil available for sale because the Worm Farm is officially close. That’s because the “business owners,” who happen to be the third-grade students of Michele Madoski at August Knodt School, are done with their class project and are getting ready for the summer break.

“It’s just something that we talked about. It was something that interested them. It’s called project-based learning. That was our project this year,” said Madoski, explaining the genesis of their classroom enterprise.

“We were just talking about ecology, the earth. Then we started talking about ways to save the earth and I mentioned worms and how they recycle the food waste,” she said.

And that started the ball rolling for their Worm Farm which evolved into a gardening product that they needed to get rid of, which they ended up selling.

To begin with, Madoski purchased 10 pounds of red worms which they placed in a plastic container that served as the compost bin.

“No smell, no flies,” she said.

Then the students collected food scraps from the cafeteria as well as recycling paper from the other classrooms which they used to feed the worms.

“We collected paper from each room every week,” Madoski said. “It’s amazing how quickly the worms reduce food waste into this powerful potting soil.”

The entire student body of the school also helped by separating their leftovers in the cafeteria which they then gave to the Worm Farm. Worms turn food waste into a product called castings, a rich organic soil. Every few weeks, Madoski’s students religiously separated the castings, and “by the end of the school year, we had enough to sell,” Madoski said.

Which brought her students to the next stage of their project and on to a new learning level: marketing and selling.

“We weighed and packaged our potting soil into plastic bags. After deciding on a product name, we wrote advertising and put our product information on the morning student announcements.  We developed a label and put it on our package and sold bags of our special potting soil for a profit,” she said.

“Our fancy packaging consisted of Ziploc bags,” each filled with a pound of castings which were then “sold” to school staff members and parents, “but mostly staff members,” Madoski said.

In the process, the students also “learned about supply and demand and marketing and running a little business. They’ve done an excellent job with it,” she said.

“I’m extremely proud of them. They’ve done an outstanding job. They worked hard but they understood what they were doing, that earth is in danger,” Madoski added.

Besides the lessons in ecology, recycling and saving the earth, Madoski said the whole class learned “many lessons on worm facts, anatomy and vermicomposting.”

And with the tree that they bought out of the proceeds from their classroom project, the students will have something concrete to remind them of the lessons they learned from their Mega Potting Soil business, she said.

“We bought a sequoia tree for the playground. We planted it today (Wednesday). They were thrilled because it’s something that they are going to be able to watch and grow and enjoy,” Madoski said.
This was not the first time Madoski had a worm farm as a classroom project.

“Eight years ago, I had another worm farm in the classroom,” but not as complex as this most recent one, said Madoski who has been teaching for 17 years, nine years of that at August Knodt.

Seeing the resounding success of this latest classroom project, she looks forward to doing it again with her next class.

“Oh, yes, definitely,” she said. “The kids learned so much and they were so excited about it. And it was fun to watch them!”