SPHS Students Expanding Environmentally Friendly Project

Photo courtesy Compost Culture
South Pasadena High School students Patrick Latting and Liam de Villa recently expanded their startup service project, Compost Culture, to neighboring San Marino.

Compost Culture — the award-winning startup service project founded last year by two South Pasadena High School students — is ripe for expansion, and it looks to be taking root in neighboring San Marino.
The operation recently expanded to begin collecting compost from residents in San Marino, and once it’s collected, it won’t have to go far. The team also recently reached an agreement with the Huntington Library to provide them with compost material to ultimately be used in its Ranch Garden, which including fruiting and other edible plants.

“There’s a lot of growth happening right now,” said Patrick Latting, one of the SPHS founders of Compost Culture. “We’re really trying to go after all the opportunities we can. We have 13 volunteers now, all high school students.”
Founded last spring on a grant from the Dragon Kim Foundation, Compost Culture signs up local residents for weekly compost collections. Those residents are provided a bin to fill their food waste with and are also provided other materials to consider using to help adapt to a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Initially just targeting homes, the group ultimately expanded to include restaurants, food-based nonprofits like Pasadena’s Friends In Deed and a dispensary at the South Pasadena Farmers’ Market to collect from non-residents.
“We’re diverting more than a thousand pounds of food waste a week,” co-founder Liam de Villa said.
Although volunteers will retrieve the bin in any case, the organization suggests a $15 donation per month to help keep the operation viable. Part of the long-term goal of composting is removing the food products from solid waste disposal operations, where they would contribute to methane emissions. It also provides a way for people to get their foot in the door, so to speak, when it comes to green practices.
People “start composting, and maybe they see other areas in their life where they can see the benefits in helping the environment,” Latting said.
Last fall, Compost Culture prevailed in the Dragon Kim Foundation’s annual awards, after Latting and de Villa showcased their project before the judge panel in a rapid fire presentation reminiscent of a television episode of “Shark Tank.” Their prize was a second $5,000 grant to continue and expand their project.
San Marino proved natural, the boys said, given the proximity of the city and similarities between the communities. They also hope to bring the project to other neighboring areas such as Pasadena, Altadena and Alhambra.
“I think San Marino and South Pasadena do share a lot of similar community and outgoing qualities,” de Villa said.
The two boys seemed cognizant of the perception that high schoolers only embark on service projects to look good for college applications. To hear them talk about it, Compost Culture is passion married with work.
“Something that’s been a real challenge for us is producing high-quality work,” Latting explained. “We don’t exactly have loads of time because we’re all high schoolers. People here have sports practices and other things and were tied up until 5 or 6 at night. When we’re working, it’s work, and we’re getting it done with the couple of minutes that we have.”
Added de Villa: “I’m not just doing this because it’s my go-to extracurricular to get into college.”
Gianna Karkafi, one of the San Marino High School students who volunteered to help expand Compost Culture, said she believes the program helps people do something without overstepping their limits and was excited about sharing it with her community.
“I was reading about it on their website and I thought it was really cool what they were doing,” she said. “I thought that the least I could do was help out. The ball just kept rolling and it was a really smooth transition to starting up in San Marino.”
To register for compost collection or to learn more about composting, visit compostculture.org.