A recent partnership between Polk Avenue Elementary School and the h.e.a.r.t. village has led us to become increasingly creative with how to turn would-be food waste into usable food sources again. One of those creative solutions has been with milk.

Michelle Counter, (pictured in black) who has spearheaded the Sustainable U program at Polk Avenue Elementary school tours the h.e.a.r.t. garden with co-worker, Monty Harrington, and one of the Sustainable U student leaders.

Polk Avenue Elementary school is a “Leader in Me” School. Students are empowered to develop and live out leadership skills while still in elementary school. One of the leadership projects that they can participate in is Sustainable U, a school wide push to become a zero waste school. This semester, under the creative direction of Michelle Counter, they have made great strides by recycling cafeteria food waste. During the lunch hour, student leaders go from table to table collecting unopened milk cartons that the students don’t wish to drink. They also monitor the trash bins and make sure that students correctly separate fruit and vegetable scraps from anything with meat. Paper waste is deposited in a separate bin.

Each afternoon, staff or interns from the h.e.a.r.t. village load up the waste bins at Polk Avenue Elementary and bring them back to the village. This is where the creativity begins.

The unopened milk cartons that were thrown away by elementary school students are emptied into a 5 gallon bucket. Once the bucket has been sealed, it sits for several days to let the anaerobic fermentation process take place. In effect, the milk clabbers, the whey separates from the milk solids and the solids curdle. The whey is removed and used in the compost pile and the milk solids are fed to the chickens. This high protein nutrient dense food is perfect for our egg laying chickens and because it has fermented, it’s much more resistant to spoiling.

Unopened milk cartons that would otherwise be thrown away are emptied into a 5 gallon bucket.


The bucket is sealed tightly and left to clabber (sour) for 2-3 days in a shady place.

So, what did the chickens think of this new food? They were hesitant at first, but after one brave hen tentatively took a taste, the others weren’t far behind to fight for what was left.

The chickens feast on the clabbered milk.

What was headed for the trash can has now become a nutrient packed source of food for our chickens, who will, in turn, lay nutritious and plentiful eggs.

The hens lay beautiful nutritious eggs.

What would have been trash has become a treasure for the table.

Post by Heather Webb