Conservation District awards 100th Mini-Grant for environmental education

November 30, 2023

Awards will support composting, gardening, hydroponics initiatives in Richland County schools

Students at four Richland County schools will receive hands-on environmental education this school year, thanks to financial support provided by the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District (RSWCD).

Twice a year, RSWCD offers Conservation Education Mini-Grants to support youth education initiatives at schools and education sites throughout the County. RSWCD has now awarded 100 grants totaling just over $47,000 since the launch of the Mini-Grant program in 2012.

Projects, participating schools and their respective grant awards for the fall semester are:

Crumbs to Compost, Dutch Fork Elementary School, Irmo ($1,000)

Dutch Fork Elementary students divert an average of 35 tons of food waste from the landfill annually through a commercial composting partnership with SMART Recycling and ReSoil Compost. Through this initiative, students learn to separate their compostable lunchroom waste from non-compostable garbage.

The school “is at the forefront of promoting sustainable practices and environmental stewardship,” said Meghan McGill, accounting manager with SMART Recycling.

Students at Dutch Fork Elementary learn to separate their compostable lunchroom waste from non-compostable garbage through a partnership with SMART Recycling and ReSoil Compost.

Farmstand Hydroponics Growing System, Brockman Elementary School, Columbia ($1,000)

Brockman Elementary students will grow vegetables and sprouts using hydroponics in the classroom. The students will transform their harvest into salads for their classroom and community and use a traveling kitchen island to prepare and cook vegetables and greens.

Through this project, “students will gain an appreciation and understanding of how to care for and meet the needs of other living things,” Upper Elementary teacher Victoria Brown said.

Farmstand Hydroponics Growing System, St. Joseph Catholic School, Columbia ($1,000)

Students at St. Joseph Catholic will also expand their school gardening efforts using a Farmstand system for hydroponics production. Produce harvested from the school’s indoor and outdoor gardens will be donated to the Saint Vincent de Paul food pantry.

“It is our hope that students will see the connection between helping both the environment and community on a local and tangible scale, allowing them to see that ‘small people can make a big difference,’” teachers Hilary Wilson and Michelle McLeod said.

School Garden Refurbishment and Expansion, Pontiac Elementary School, Elgin ($750)

Students at Pontiac Elementary will refurbish and expand an existing raised-bed garden area, providing opportunities to explore topics including the needs of plants, as well as adaptation, heritability, pollination, seed dispersal, habitat diversity, ecosystems, and food webs.

In addition to the garden creating an outdoor learning laboratory, “there has been a boom in development around our school that has resulted in less habitat for wildlife, especially birds,” fourth-grade teacher Rachel Tustin said. “We will create a small wildlife zone in our garden to provide opportunities for birds to feed and find cover.”

Joseph Catholic School students are expanding their school gardening efforts using a Farmstand growing system for hydroponics production.

Getting Involved in Conservation Education

While Richland County supports the RSWCD’s work with staff and other resources, much of the funding for the Conservation Education Mini-Grant program comes from individual donors, businesses, and community support through the Friends of the RSWCD.

One such supporter is the Palmetto Garden Club, which earlier this year provided a $9,000 gift to further RSWCD’s youth education and school gardening efforts. “We are excited to see our gift being used to introduce students to gardening, composting, hydroponics and conservation through this Mini-Grant program,” said Garden Club representative Kathleen Finlay.

Applications for the Mini-Grants are accepted for spring and fall semesters. The next application deadline is Jan. 22, 2024. To apply for a Mini-Grant for your school or to learn how to support conservation education efforts through the Friends of the RSWCD, visit