Learn about worm composting, cover crops and more at Scattergood Friends School field day – Sept. 26, West Branch

For Release: September 11, 2015

WEST BRANCH, Iowa — When Scattergood Friends School decided to start a worm composting program in 2011, it helped address three important priorities at the school: minimizing waste, providing an educational opportunity for students, and increasing sustainable living and farming practices.

“We are trying to produce all of our own fertility for the school gardens, as well as decrease our waste stream,” says Mark Quee, a teacher at Scattergood and manger of the school’s farm. “We generate a lot of waste paper from various sources, so using worms to convert the paper into compost seemed like a worthwhile project that could be studied in our classes. By transferring waste products through the digestive system of a worm, you also get the benefits of the worm’s biology – the nutrients that live in the worm, which then inoculate your soil.”

In 2014, Scattergood Friends School received a SARE Youth Educator Grant to scale up this worm composting system (also known as vermicomposting), incorporate it into the science curriculum and find ways to keep the worms productive through the winter. Scattergood Friends School will host a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day on Saturday, Sept. 26, from 4-7 p.m., where Mark will share what the school has learned about composting with worms, cover crops, restoring pollinator habitat and more.

The event – “Vermicomposting and Cover Crops for Vegetables” – is free to attend, and will include a meal. RSVPs are requested for the meal. Please contact Lauren Zastrow, lauren@practicalfarmers.org or (515) 232-5661, by Wednesday, Sept. 23. Scattergood Friends School is located at 258 290th St., just east of West Branch.

The field day will begin by exploring what Scattergood has learned about non-mechanized, medium-scale vermicomposting systems before heading to the gardens for a tour. The field walk will include discussions about a sweet pepper variety trial; various cover cropping strategies in an organic vegetable system; pollinator habitat restoration, including a pollinator census; a research trial that will explore the feasibility of planting garlic early with an oat cover crop; a long-term trial comparing brown and green manures; using a Drift Catcher to monitor pesticide drift; and many other topics.

“Our farming and educational models give us lots of room to experiment and try new things. That’s just one of the things I love about working here,” Mark says. “Though our scale isn’t too large, we pack in a lot of production, education and fun.

Scattergood Friends School is a small Quaker boarding school 15 miles east of Iowa City, with 10 acres of IDALS-certified organic gardens and orchards, and 30 acres of pasture used to grass-finish beef and lamb. The school also has a few heritage-breed Guinea hogs, a small flock of turkeys, and occasional broiler and laying chicken flocks. Scattergood primarily grows food for the school, but has also produced for farmers markets, New Pioneer Coop and a small CSA. The school has been an example of an extreme farm-to-school program since 1890 (but more recently since 2003, when a decision was made to raise much of the food consumed at Scattergood).

Directions: From Iowa City, take I-80 east for 9.7 miles and take Exit 254 north into West Branch. Turn right onto Main Street (it turns into 290th Street / Herbert Hoover Highway) and go about 1.5 miles; the farm is on the right.

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2015 field day season features 40 field days around Iowa. All field days are open to the public, and most are free to attend. The guide is available online at practicalfarmers.org, or contact the PFI office at (515) 232-5661 to request a printed copy.

Practical Farmers’ 2015 field days are supported by several sustaining and major sponsors, including: Albert Lea Seed; Applegate Natural & Organic Meats; BlueStem Organic Feed Mill; Center for Rural Affairs; Featherman Equipment Company; Grain Millers, Inc.; Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance; Iowa Beef Center; Iowa Farm Service Agency (USDA); Iowa Farmers Union in partnership with Town and Country Insurance and Hastings Mutual Insurance; Iowa State University Department of Agronomy; Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE); Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH); ISU Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture; Klinkenborg Aerial Spraying and Seeding, Inc.; La Crosse Seed; Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture; Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES); MOSA Organic Certification; National Wildlife Federation; Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); Organic Valley – Organic Prairie – CROPP Cooperative; The Nature Conservancy in Iowa; Pro-Soil Ag Solutions; Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture; and Welter Seed and Honey Company.


Practical Farmers of Iowa strengthens farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information-sharing. Our values include: welcoming everyone; creativity, collaboration and community; viable farms now and for future generations; and stewardship and ecology. Founded in 1985, farmers in our network raise corn, soybeans, livestock, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more. To learn more, visit https://www.practicalfarmers.org.


Mark Quee | Scattergood Friends School | (319) 530-3782 | farm@scattergood.org | www.scattergood.org

Tamsyn Jones | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 | tamsyn@practicalfarmers.org