SPHS Students’ Compost Project Is a Winner

Photo courtesy Dragon Kim Foundation
Liam de Villa and Patrick Latting, flanked by Grace and Daniel Kim, recently won a $5,000 grant in the Kims’ student service project competition.

Composting has proved fruitful for two South Pasadena boys whose service project promoting the green practice took home the top prize in the Dragon Challenge, which sponsored all of the competitors.
The Compost Culture project developed by Patrick Latting and Liam de Villa, a senior and junior at South Pasadena High School, emerged victorious over two other finalists at a ceremony in Irvine last week. The groups each presented their projects, which like all of the competition’s 23 entries were funded by $5,000 grants from the Dragon Kim Foundation, before a panel of judges last week.

Photo courtesy Dragon Kim Foundation
South Pasadena High School students Patrick Latting and Liam de Villa used a $5,000 grant to develop a local composting program.

For their victory, the boys earned a second $5,000 grant from the foundation to continue their work. They competed with Fostering the Arts, a virtual performing arts program created by two California School of the Arts-San Gabriel Valley students, and Hip Hop Workshop, a two-week interactive workshop by two Orange County students that fostered appreciation for hip-hop and spoken-word poetry.
“Patrick and Liam put forth a fantastic effort, especially their persistence in convincing their city to green-light this project,” said Jonathan Levin, dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a judge for the competition, in a statement. “That was a great presentation and a fantastic effort that was heroic and quite amazing.”
With Compost Culture, Latting and de Villa offered free bins and compostable bags to interested South Pasadena households to collect their food scraps. Those bins and bags were picked up every Sunday, after which the compost material was donated to a local organic farm.
Residents could also purchase their own composters half-price from the boys’ project, and a website made for Compost Culture offered a variety of presentations and information to people on how to compost and how else to reduce their carbon footprint.
In their “Shark Tank”-style presentation last week, Latting and de Villa kicked off their delivery with a video of a friend of theirs in Monrovia who had to evacuate from the Bobcat Fire. This, they said, highlighted the long-term goal of embracing composting: curbing climate change.
“We knew that people in South Pas cared about the environment, but they didn’t know where to begin,” Latting told the judges. “We gave them tangible steps they could take to help reduce their carbon footprint. Composting is a great way to reduce methane emissions caused by food waste decomposing in a landfill.”
Describing how they got Compost Culture off the ground, the boys detailed the trouble they went through with city officials to plan and present the program and get it approved. This included a 15-page strategic plan they spent an entire night writing.
“And you’d never guess: No city employee wants to read a 15-page high school paper on rotting food,” de Villa riffed, with Latting picking up the serve: “No, they do not, Liam.”
“My guess is that no one even read it,” Latting added, “but it did show that we were serious and committed, which was enough to get Compost Culture through.”
The two both highlighted perseverance as a major theme of the project.
“Despite that and a million other problems, our project was successful,” de Villa said.
In total, they said, they netted 236 participants, averaged 1,780 pounds of organic scrap collected per month and raised more than $2,400 from donors.
“It’s not just about the numbers,” de Villa added. “It’s about making people feel good about their choices and encouraging them to lead more sustainable lives.”
Moving forward, the duo said they’re continuing to collect scraps from the Pasadena charity Friends In Deed, setting up free compost collection at the South Pasadena Farmers’ Market, planning monthly bin giveaways and figuring out how to continue the project with SPHS students and expand to Pasadena, Altadena, Alhambra and San Marino.
“We realized that it’s really a big open market of minds we can rewire to think about sustainability and composting,” de Villa said.
The nonprofit Dragon Kim Foundation was established in 2015 by Grace and Daniel Kim to honor the memory of their late son, Dragon Kim, who had been attending the Orange County School of the Arts. The mission of the foundation is to inspire youth to impact their communities while discovering and pursuing their passions.
“We couldn’t be prouder of our fellows this year,” said Daniel Kim in a statement. “Not even the challenges of COVID-19 could deter them from completing their summertime social service projects to benefit people in need. We congratulate the Compost Culture team and all of our fellows for a job well done.”