Twice a week, the students at West Nottingham Academy get a delivery of about 25 gallons of milk. In return, they send their food waste to their local dairy farm.

The milk that the students drink with their meals at the private boarding school in Colora, Maryland, comes from Kilby Cream, a dairy farm one mile away from the high school campus. The dairy once belonged to Bill Kilby, who partnered with the school to help students learn about environmental stewardship and make the farm-to-table connection. Kilby Cream, now run by Andrea and Cliff Sensenig and Ben and Liz Flahart, continues the farm-school collaboration.

collage of dairy volunteers

Photos: Top Left: International student David Sodimu drinks milk provided by Kilby Cream with his meal at West Nottingham Academy. Top Right: Students are reminded what can be thrown into the colorful food waste collecton bins found at the Academy’s dining hall. Bottom Left: Ethan McNary and other members of the Student Environmental Council (SEC) empty bins into a composting pit at Kilby Cream Farm. Bottom Right: International student Oyku Girmen visits with the cows that provide milk to WNA.  

RECIPROCATE. The partnership.

The school.

In 48-hours or less, milk that is made and processed at Kilby Cream makes its way to West Nottingham Academy.

“I think our students feel more connected to the milk they’re consuming. They’ve seen the cows, they’ve seen the milking and feeding operation. They understand that this is Kilby milk. They know this stuff tastes really good in glass bottles and we’re trying to perpetuate this environmental ethic, the idea that the bottles go back, they get washed and they get reused.” ~Virginia Kennedy

The farm.

In return, food waste from the school’s dining hall is sent to the farm for recycling.

“It’s a really good opportunity for farmers to actually show children where their food comes from. A lot of them are so far removed or disconnected from agriculture and the actual process of food production. This food waste recycling program brings them one step back toward the farm, where they get to learn and see where their food comes from and all the work, dedication, and pride that farmers put into their product.” ~ Andrea Sensenig

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Photo: Kilby Cream Farm owner, Andrea Sensenig, at the on-farm milk processing plant. 

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Photos: Top Photo: Dairy farmer Bill Kilby (second from left) and Virginia Kennedy (far right) at Kilby Cream Farm with half of the Academy’s SEC students, plus a couple of visitors from American Dairy Assocation North EastBottom Photo: The other half of the SEC members at the Academy’s dining hall with freshly-cleaned food collection waste bins. 

It’s a beneficial partnership for the school and the farm.

Man and woman dumping food waste into collection bin

Photo: WNA Sustainability Program director Virginia Kennedy helps Student Environmental Council members empty the food waste collection bins. 

REUSE. What once was old is new again.  

On the farm, the food waste is dumped into a manure pit where it decomposes. The compost then gets mixed in with cow waste and is made into fertilizer that is then used on the crops. “We recycle the manure back to the fields to nourish the crops to make more feed for the cows to make more milk,” explained Bill Kilby. He spearheaded the relationship between the farm and West Nottingham Academy and, even though retired now, remains actively involved in the sustainability program between the school and the farm.

RECYCLE. Repurposing food waste.   

After finishing their meals, students scrape off their plates into bright, colorful buckets. The food waste recycling program is run by the school’s Student Environmental Council. “I’m from Nigeria, where there is a lot of food waste – it doesn’t get recycled,” said David Sodimu, a member of the school’s Student Environmental Council. “It makes me feel better that at West Nottingham, we’re not wasting food when we throw it in the recycling buckets — there’s something positive coming from it and I really want to be a part of something that can help our future.”

REDUCE. Saving the Planet

Time for some math! Take 125 students x 3 meals per day x 10 months = 6 tons of food waste! Instead of occupying space in a landfill, the food waste from the school is diverted to the Kilby Cream farm each week for composting.

“Just by this small action, we’re having a huge impact on the world, on the students’ future. So as a teacher and as a mom, it’s really important to me,” said Virginia Kennedy, director of the Student Environmental Program at the Academy.

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The 4 R’s are a mantra at the Academy. Once the bins are emptied at the composting pit on the farm, the buckets must be washed so they can be reused.

“The most important thing I’ve learned about dairy farming since being involved in the sustainability program is that it can all be reused and we can all work together, as a group. It’s not just some random farm. There can be a connection between the consumer, like me, and a local farm.” ~ Ethan McNary, Student Environmental Council member, WNA

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For many West Nottingham Academy students, it’s their first time stepping foot on a farm and seeing how animals are cared for, what they’re fed, and how milk is processed at the farm’s on-site processing plant. For others, like Oyku Girmen, a student from Turkey, whose grandparents are dairy farmers, it’s an opportunity to see how a family farm operates on a larger scale compared to what she’s used back at home. Each student walks away with a better understanding that milk is nourishing but it’s also a livelihood and part of sustaining the community.

“The partnership and the positive environmental ethic that this ethic produces is going to help right here in Cecil County, and these students are going to take it back with them through Maryland, throughout the United States, and through the world wherever they go.” ~Virginia Kennedy

Fridge of milk courtesy of the Kilby Family
Carbon footprint infographic