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Koch making a difference in the environment one pound of food at a time

Lipscomb students are making a difference in the world by putting what they are learning in the classroom to practice.

Kim Chaudoin  | 

Isadora Koch with Darry Huntsman

Isadora Koch, left, has partnered with Sodexo's Darry Huntsman, to develop a composting program in Bison Café.

Each year in the United States researchers estimate that 80 billion pounds of food — or the equivalent of 1,000 Empire State Buildings — is thrown away and is the single-largest component taking up space inside landfills.  

Isadora Koch, a junior environmental and sustainability studies major, is passionate about reducing food waste. Determined to reduce that waste, Koch decided to start in her own backyard — at Lipscomb University. This spring, Koch is partnering with Lipscomb Dining to fight food waste by launching a composting program. 

“I was led to develop the food waste project after learning about the detrimental effects of food being sent to the landfill and releasing methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide, and realizing the need to turn food waste into a reusable material instead of a pollutant,” says Koch, of Lexington, Kentucky. “ I was also generally interested in promulgating sustainability on campus as I saw that the university had room to improve in its contribution to creation care as a Christian institution. My studies in sustainability at Lipscomb and my fellowship with Youth Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA) provided the perfect opportunity to take action on my convictions.” 

This spring Koch has worked alongside Darry Huntsman, Sodexo Lipscomb Dining’s executive chef, and the Lipscomb Student Government Association to establish a partnership with Compost Nashville to compost all pre-consumer waste from kitchen preparation as an initiative to address food waste. 

Isadora Koch

Isadora Koch

“Composting is an important practice that is bringing Lipscomb to new heights of sustainability by closing the food loop,” she says. “In this way composting allows for Lipscomb to serve God and the community by making Nashville and the planet a more sustainable place to live.” 

The successful decomposition of food depends on one factor: oxygen. Because oxygen is largely absent in landfills due to waste being buried many layers deep, naturally occurring microbes are unable to properly decompose food waste and emit methane. Koch explains that composting is a much more advantageous process that takes place in an aerobic environment that allows microbes to break down food into reusable organic material. Instead of producing a harmful greenhouse gas as a by-product, composting transforms food waste into nutrient rich organic material. In the end, composting is really about the circle of life; what comes from the earth returns to the earth. 

In the fall semester of 2020, Koch and Huntsman went through the preliminary phase of determining logistics for the project and conducting a waste audit to determine the volume of food that would need to be managed. While Huntsman was in charge of leading the project within the kitchen, Koch was reached out to the Student Government Association, which provided funding for the project. “Our teamwork has allowed for a smooth implementation of composting waste produced in kitchen preparation,” reflects Koch.
 So far this school year, nearly 7,000 pounds of food from Bison Cafe, Lipscomb’s main dining hall, have been composted thus diverting it from the landfill. That is the equivalent of the weight of two Toyota RAV-4s.
“We average about 1,100 pounds of food diverted per week, which has been very impactful,” says Koch. “The kitchen staff has done a great job of adapting to the practice and it has been seamlessly integrated into the operations.” 

Composting is an important practice that is bringing Lipscomb to new heights of sustainability by closing the food loop. In this way composting allows for Lipscomb to serve God and the community by making Nashville and the planet a more sustainable place to live.  — Isadora Koch

Koch says the project has been paid for through the spring semester and she is currently working on a collaboration to receive money from the university to sustain this practice in the future. The project currently covers pre-consumer waste, such as waste produced during preparation, and her plan is to expand to post-consumer waste in the coming semester. 
While this project is making an impact at Lipscomb, Koch says individuals can also play a role in minimizing food waste. “In terms of daily practices, people can be mindful of how much food they serve themselves,” she recommends. “And, if they have leftovers they should save them instead of throwing them away. It’s really quite an easy solution!”
Being a good steward is something Koch believes in strongly. 
“I am passionate about environmental sustainability because I view stewardship as being a moral obligation,” she says. “Additionally, there are so many effective solutions to our issues of waste that the best option truly is to avail ourselves of them so as to be able to move forward in better standing with our natural environment. Ultimately, we are integrally connected and deeply dependent on the wellbeing of our planet.”
As Koch prepares for a career in global environmental policy or in environmental economics as it pertains to sustainable development, she says her studies at Lipscomb have had a tremendous impact.  
“My experience at Lipscomb has been fantastic. I am very grateful for Dr. (Emily) Stutzman and her knowledge and passion for teaching sustainability and for helping cultivate the minds of the next generation of change-makers,” says Koch. “I have genuinely been interested in my classes and the curriculum is developed to have a lot of overlap with real-world action that I feel very prepared to contribute outside of the classroom.” 
But before she concludes her studies at Lipscomb, she says she is eager to bring sustainability to the forefront of the conversation in the planning for Lipscomb’s next 10 years. “It is my belief that we have a responsibility to have sustainability ingrained in the very fabric of our institution, if not because we are called to steward God’s creation then because the rest of the world is moving forward with sustainable action and we must seek to maintain our relevance,” she says. 

Learn more information about Lipscomb’s undergraduate program in environmental and sustainability science, housed in the College of Leadership & Public Service