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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI student doesn’t ‘waste’ her education...

KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 15, 2001 -- Students at the Meadowbrook School in West Greenwich understand the fun and significance of composting, thanks to the efforts of University of Rhode Island student Jayne Merner of Charlestown.

Merner, who is just completing her junior year, began the composting project three years ago as an assignment for a URI honors course requirement to design and deliver a presentation that had something to do with the environment.

During her talk, she discovered that most of the children had never heard of compost. Undaunted, Merner developed a system for food scrap collection and an outdoor compost pile that all the children could use.

That kind of commitment and outreach effort no doubt impressed the judges of the Morris K. Udall Scholarship and Excellence in National Environmental Policy Foundation. They named Merner one of 80 recipients of a Udall Scholarship, which is awarded to outstanding students across the country who have demonstrated interest in and potential for careers related to public policy. The scholarship will pay $5,000 toward Merner’s tuition and fees. She is the only Rhode Island resident to win the award this year.

Merner understood the benefits of composting and traveling at an early age. Her father, Michael Merner, operates the Earth Care Farm in Charlestown, a large-scale composting business. Her aunt, Marsha Aaronson, principal of South Kingstown Junior High, opened a world of adventure to her. Aaronson promised her five nephews and nieces she would bring them anywhere in the world when they turned 16. Merner chose Tanzania. She was amazed when she met the Masai there who lead a lifestyle that produces no waste. "We had some food left over so my aunt and I gave some juice boxes to the local children. They didn’t know what to do with the empty boxes so they put them in the street. They don’t have garbage.

"I grew up so much that summer. I realized that as Americans we waste our resources, time, and money as part of our cultural practices. I also realized that as a privileged society we also have a responsibility," says the URI student who served as a page for the late U.S. Senator John Chafee.

Since traveling to Africa, Merner has studied in Spain, traveled throughout Europe, visited Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico, and the Virgin Islands.

Last year, Merner founded Golden Root CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), an organic farm in Charlestown. Twenty-seven members signed up. Weekly, members would pick up their basket of fresh, certified organic produce that Merner had grown, harvested, and packaged. She also handed out a weekly newsletter containing healthful recipes, environmental news, and local happenings. She toiled in the garden but she was not alone. Fourteen members of the community ranging from small children to university professors volunteered their time throughout the growing season.

After Merner graduates next May, she plans to renew her organic gardening business and then study and work internationally, eventually bringing ideas such as community gardening to the world stage. "I aspire to use my experience not only to raise healthy, nutritious crops but also to nurture a better economy, environment, and world community," says the 20-year-old Udall Scholar who is majoring in environmental economics and management.

Back at Meadowbrook School, Merner’s legacy lives on. The composting project continues to thrive. Currently, third graders actively manage the pile. The young students are particularly proud of their flower gardens that flourish from the nutritious soil additives from the compost. "Most gratifying for me are the home compost piles started by many of the families," says Merner who occasionally stops by the school just to bring leaves or straw or other organic material.

"Jayne Merner employs a marvelous synthesis of academic and applied approaches to problem solving, working as she does at the intersection of environmental economic theory and sustainable agricultural practices," comments Cheryl Foster, associate director of the URI Honors Program. "Hers will be a gentle yet resounding voice in the development of agricultural policy."

For Information: Jan Sawyer, 874-2116

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