Joliet Junior College agriculture students are preparing to be sustainable for their future careers – and a big part of that includes learning the art of composting, according to Land Laboratories Manager Stevan Brockman.
Brockman, who has worked professionally in the farming and composting industry for more than 40 years, began using composting techniques on JJC’s demonstration and research farm on its Main Campus when he first started working at the college two years ago.
Agriculture Instructor Jeff Landers brings his students to the field each semester to observe the composting techniques Brockman puts into action. As Brockman creates the compost and tends to the plants, he works on different sections of the farm in different stages so that the classes can observe it all at one time – from the beginning, when the compost has just started to break down, to when the plants are in full bloom. Students also take soil samplings to further study the process.
For the compost, Brockman uses leaves as his base, and then breaks them down so that they can be used with the soil.
“This process helps build up more organic matter in the soil. Organic matter is good because it holds nutrients in the soil, which means more nutrients for the plants,” Brockman said. “When I first started working here, JJC’s soil was deficient. The past two years of composting is creating an improvement.”
Over the past semester, Brockman has collected 27 semi loads of leaves from the Village of Shorewood to use on the farm. This averages out to more than 20 tons per load and 540 tons total for composting. As he receives each shipment, he separates the leaves into individual piles. When the leaves break down, they gather heat and moisture from being so close together, creating a definitive organic aroma – thanks to the release of the chemicals oxygen and carbon nitrogen.
“I try to get the leaves to 160 degrees so that they actually start to steam,” Brockman explained. That’s when he knows he’s ready to move on to the next step so that the compost can eventually be mixed in with the soil.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, composting benefits the environment by enriching the soil, cleaning contaminated soil, and preventing pollution. Compost also reduces the need for water, fertilizer and pesticides.
In addition to the environmental benefits, JJC receives $25 for each load of leaves.
This money is used for fuel and repairs on the farm.
Though Brockman has been creating compost for the past 40 years, being able to contribute to students’ education has been the most rewarding experience on his resume.
“Composting is the natural way to work on the farm. It’s very healthy for the crops and it’s important to let the next generation see that,” he said.
For more information about JJC’s agriculture and horticulture department, visit http://www.jjc.edu/agriculture-horticulture. For more information about the JJC farm, visit http://www.jjc.edu/ag/Pages/demo-research-farm.aspx.