Category Archives: Education

Using Worms to Reduce Food Waste at Monroe Correctional Complex!

By Donna Simpson, Administrative Assistant 3 at Monroe Correctional Complex

The Monroe Correctional Complex is using worms to reduce food waste disposal costs while also providing a meaningful science and sustainability education and work program for offenders.

Currently at 5 million worms, the vermiculture program can process 10,000 pounds of food scraps per month, resulting in a cost reduction of more than 25%.  This translates into big savings for the prison, which previously spent $60,000 a year on food waste disposal before several sustainability initiatives began.

In January of 2010, staff and offenders developed the vermiculture program by collecting just 200 red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida) for three small breeding bins built by offenders. Very little funding has been invested in the program. As the worm population grew, new and improved models of worm bins were built by converting discarded barrels, old laundry carts, food carts, and recycled mattress materials. This indoor commercial-sized “Wormery” currently has more than 170 worm bins designed and built by offenders.  Seventeen of the bins are “flow-through” style.  The flow-through bins are primarily built from re-purposed materials by offenders, whereas they would typically retail at more than $5,000 each.

This program provides other benefits, including the by-products produced by the worms. Worm castings (worm manure) are a valuable, high-quality organic fertilizer sought after in the organic gardening market. The “Wormery” also produces 400 gallons of worm tea fertilizer per week. The worm castings and worm tea are used in the several acres of gardens at Monroe Correctional Complex.

Studies have shown that offenders who participate in horticulture programs while incarcerated have a lower rate of recidivism. Offenders develop important vocational and life skills. The worm technicians at MCC wrote an operations manual that is now available to assist other institutions in starting new vermiculture programs. They have also developed an extensive breeding program capable of exporting worms to other Washington institutions, agencies or schools. Thus far, Washington State Penitentiary and Stafford Creek Corrections Center have received worms as a result of this program.

 

Worm breeding bins

 

Flow through bins designed and built by inmates

 

Worm Breeding Bins

 

New Tilapia Program at Stafford Creek Corrections Center

by Lucienne Guyot, Executive Secretary Correctional Industries and Lyle Morse, Director Correctional Industries

Construction is well underway on the greenhouse which will house tilapia at Stafford Creek Corrections Center near Aberdeen. The lean, fresh water fish will live in water heated by solar panels manufactured at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.  Offenders working in the new Correctional Industries program will rear the fish.  Besides feeding and general care for the tilapia, offenders will learn the craft of fish rearing including monitoring nitrates, nitrites, ammonia and regulating these substances along with water quality and temperature. They will perform equipment maintenance, monitor alarms and produce a protein source for use in offender meals. The facility is designed to have a capacity of 40,000 lbs of fish per year with the possibility for expansion.  The agency will develop a fish patty to serve as the primary dietary product.

The Department of Corrections is not new to offering offenders work in sustainability projects. This new Correctional Industries program is well-aligned with the on-going Sustainability in Prisons Project, a partnership between the Department, The Evergreen State College, state and federal agencies, and conservation organizations.

Tilapia Tanks and Greenhouse at Stafford Creek Corrections Center

 

SPP Conservation Nursery Internship Experience

SPP Conservation Nursery Internship Experience

by SPP Undergraduate Intern Candace Penn

Editor’s note: Candace, SPP’s undergraduate intern this summer, has been working with our Conservation Nursery project, growing endangered prairie plants.  Her post below was written in late July.

After just five weeks with the Sustainability in Prisons Project as a conservation nursery intern, I find myself at home at Shotwell’s Landing when I smell the fresh pile of soil being turned in the morning air. I really enjoy working with the volunteers and the Washington Department of Corrections (D.O.C.) community crews. But most of all, I love the ability to watch a seed grow into gorgeous plant. I feel such accomplishment, a kind of accomplishment you can’t get from working in a lab or classroom.

I have gained a different appreciation for the plants at Shotwell’s from my program at The Evergreen State College this summer, Creating Community and Health Through Gardens. For example, the Plantain we grow that serves as a vital habitat for the female Checkerspot butterflies to lay their eggs is also a healing herb that is also referred to as Indian band aid. The leaves can be used to heal open wounds or just cuts and scrapes. A tincture can be made with olive oil: a simplified instruction for this would be 1 part dried plantain leaves to 2 parts olive oil.

Aside from the beauty at the nursery there is a lot of behind the scenes work that gets done. Interns from the Center for Natural Lands Management collected strawberry runners and a group of interns, volunteers, [SPP Graduate Research Associate] Evan Hayduk and I cut growing nodes for propagation. The vines were stored in the fridge for a week, then DOC crews helped plant them and today I watered them in the greenhouse. I have been moving a lot of trays around trying to make sure the strawberries are out of direct sunlight since this could shock the young plants just starting to root. I really enjoy the collaborative working environment.

A DOC Community Crew member sows seed at Shotwell's Landing Nursery. SPP staff photo.

 

SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator Carl Elliot trains interns at Shotwell's Landing. AmeriCorps photo.

 

DOC Community Crew members work on weeding Castilleja species at Shotwell's Landing. Photo by E.Hayduk.

To donate to the SPP and support unique learning and service opportunities for undergraduates like Candace, click here.

SPP Lecture Series Update

SPP Lecture Series Update

by Graduate Research Associate Brittany Gallagher, Education & Evaluations Coordinator

The SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture Series has been up and running at Stafford Creek Corrections Center and Washington Corrections Center for Women since 2009.  Every month, inmates at each facility have the option to attend a lecture given by a community-based scientist, university researcher, organic farmer, or other teacher well-versed in one or more topics related to science, the outdoors, and environmental sustainability.

Thanks to the cooperation and enthusiasm of staff at Stafford Creek and WCCW, up to 50 inmates are able to attend each presentation, which may take the form of lecture, multimedia presentation, or workshop.  Recent lecturers and topics have included:

Anna Thurston of Advanced Botanical Resources, Inc. lectures to a group at WCCW.

Anna Thurston of Advanced Botanical Resources, Inc. lectures to a group at WCCW.

Anna Thurston shares plant samples with her audience during a plant identification workshop.

Inmates who attend lectures are asked to complete surveys designed to measure changes in environmental knowledge and attitudes, as Lecture & Evaluations Intern Jaal Mann discussed in his blog post this spring.  Many inmates make it a priority to attend the lecture series, with one writing recently “Thank you for providing these lectures.  I look forward to them every month.”  Lectures often pique the interest of several inmates each month, who use the surveys to ask for more information on the day’s topic.  Others take more general lessons away, with one inmate noting “I learned that I should look outside at more things, and that things I’ve never thought about are interesting.”

Surveys also give inmates an opportunity to request lecture topics.  Recently requested topics include green building, aquaponics, urban farming, Mt. Rainier, geothermal systems, mammals, restoring biodiversity and a host of others.

SPP is always recruiting lecturers willing to visit a prison and share their time and knowledge with an inmate audience.  If you or someone you know would like to lecture as part of SPP’s Science and Sustainability Series, please contact Brittany Gallagher at galbri23@evergreen.edu or 360-867-6765 for more information.

SPP Evaluations Internship Experience

SPP Evaluations Internship Experience

by SPP Undergraduate Intern Jaal Mann

Editor’s Note: Jaal is one of three stellar Evergreen undergraduates who have been working with SPP during the spring quarter.  He has been an intern for not one but TWO (related!) SPP programs: evaluations and prairie plant conservation.  This week, he writes about the world of survey analysis and lecture-based environmental education.

As an undergraduate intern with the Sustainability in Prison Project for the last 10 weeks, there has been a lot to learn. I have spent much of my time analyzing the survey responses from the lecture series in the prisons, and it has been fascinating and inspiring to see some of the positive feedback that the inmates return.

Inmates learned about the benefits of shopping locally and pledged to do so in the future after attending a lecture about organic agriculture. After a lecture on energy use and biofuels, they learned how biofuels could play a role in solving energy problems and “would love to see [biofuels] to be used by our farming communities to operate their equipment.”

The lecture series is able to reach a much broader inmate population than the frog, butterfly, or native plant projects.  It is SPP’s hope that this wide variety of inmates attending sustainability lectures will take home a different view of the subject of the lecture and of the overall subject of everyday sustainability.

Many of these lectures have left inmates with lasting lifelong information and skills, such as how to use natural herbs to treat illnesses, that “not just herbicides will kill plants”, and “to be mindful of what goes down the drain.”

Evaluation of effectiveness is a complex subject, but so far it is evident that not only knowledge-based responses are improving through lectures, but attitudes about the subjects and sustainability as well.

While our evaluation techniques are still being improved, when we hear that attendees have learned “about the importance of balance needed between our use of land, care for land and the value of butterflies to the balances needed,” and that “the world is way more complicated than I ever thought,” it definitely helps us know that we must be doing something right.

SPP staff member Carl Elliot gives a lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Lecture content is evaluated using pre- and post-lecture surveys.

Sorting through pre- and post-lecture evaluations is a big job! We use evaluations to understand knowledge retention and attitude changes as a result of our lectures and workshops.

To support unique educational opportunities for college students as well as incarcerated men and women, click here to donate to SPP.

 

SPP Butterfly Internship Experience

SPP Butterfly Internship Experience

by SPP Undergraduate Intern Chelsea Oldenburg

Editor’s Note: SPP has had the pleasure of working with three wonderful Evergreen undergraduate interns during this spring quarter.  Over the next few weeks, blog visitors will have the chance to read about their experiences in the students’ own words.

After 8 weeks of working with the Sustainability in Prisons Project at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women as an intern for the butterfly program a lot of unexpected things have become commonplace for me. It’s amazing how quickly I acclimate to my surroundings. After only a few days of visiting, the prison guards, razor wire and coveralls seemed normal. As does manipulating the curled proboscis of a butterfly with a paper clip and watching her perfectly paint plantain leaves with bright yellow eggs.

So far my main work this quarter has been facilitating an oviposition preference study that Dennis Aubrey is doing for his masters thesis. This means observing which plants female Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies prefer to lay their eggs on.

The women are carrying out the study five or six days a week and so Dennis, Caitlin (another intern) or I rotate coming out to insure things are running smoothly, bring supplies and run a few of the preference trials ourselves. Usually we also get a chance to help with some of the daily chores of captive rearing. These chores include: feeding adult butterflies a honey-water mixture from a q-tip, transferring eggs into various containers with a paintbrush, freshening water and supplying plantain leaves to hungry caterpillars. Aside from housekeeping and study overseeing there is a lot of time to converse with the women from MCCCW that are working on the project. They seem to truly love the butterflies they are raising and I am always impressed by their fastidiousness, acute observations and consistent positive attitudes. The love seems to go both ways as the butterflies flourish under their care.  A couple of weeks ago I was sent home from The Oregon Zoo with many more larvae, pupae and adult butterflies to bring to MCCCW because of the success with their current stock. Maybe the women at Mission Creek can care for these transforming insects from a place of real understanding as they simultaneously undergo incredible personal transformations themselves.

For the last few weeks of my internship I am excited to erect some raised beds around the butterfly rearing greenhouse. After the frames are built and a lot of soil is shoveled in, we are going to fill the beds with native prairie plants, larval food plants and nectar flowers for feeding the adult butterflies. Two of the women I work with seem genuinely excited to help with the project. Although I will be sorry to end my visits to the prison at the close of this quarter it feels good knowing I will leave behind some nourishing infrastructure.

Want to support innovative educational opportunities and the rearing of endangered butterflies?  Donate to SPP by clicking here.

Stormwater presentation at WCCW: Inmate blog

“Stormwater: Life in the Gutter” at WCCW: Inmate blog

Editor’s note: This post was written by an inmate at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), where SPP hosts a monthly Science & Sustainability lecture series.  On May 1, Stokley Towles, a performance artist and faculty member at The Evergreen State College, gave a highly entertaining presentation called “Stormwater: Life in the Gutter” to a group of nearly 40 inmates at WCCW.
Mr. Towles will be performing this piece for the public starting this Friday, May 4, at the Seattle Center.  For more information, please see http://www.stokleytowles.com/.

Today I attended a 2 hour presentation of “Storm Watch” which took place in A Building at Purdy Prison, also known as WCCW, or vice versa.

WOW! Talk about an out-of-body experience! Not only was I able to get out of my cramped cell and leave the unit I live in; this is the first time in 5 years of being incarcerated  here in WCCW that I actually felt like being part of a community.

Who would ever guess that hearing about bowel excretion could feel like connecting with one’s community?! No, really! This guy from the Sustainability in Prisons Project was showing us diagrams from a laptop and projector on one of the walls in the visiting room on how storm water and sewage is piped underground from neighborhoods, and pretty soon before I knew it, I was enthralled in the dialog of communication from offenders. This guy whose nickname was “Street”  was beautiful – no kidding – he even showed us the hot pink socks he was wearing! Yeah, right there in the visiting room he props up his leg onto a table with the heel of his black, soft leather , worn dress shoe on the edge of the table and hikes up his beige chino slacks and displays his HOT PINK SOCKS! He, aka Street, says “I spend a lot of time with the sewage plant workers and garbage collectors, getting to know what they do on their jobs, actually walking around with them all day, seeing and hearing how they feel and what they think about what they’re doing. Everyone who works for the Seattle Sewage Plant gets a nickname. It’s for security reasons, because working for the City of Seattle is like being one big happy family and using an alias protects their identity out in the field”.

Today for just a minute I was out there – out in the field with Street, watching the sky for oncoming storms and climbing down storm drains (with a gas mask), checking out neighborhood ponds for “beaver workaholics”. Huh. Yeah. I felt like being connected to something other than being an offender incarcerated here in Prison. I sure the heck wasn’t thinking about all that chaos and drama back in the unit  I live in during those brief 110 minutes or so.

Thank you, Sustainability-in-Prisons-Project!

Thank you Stokley Towles!

Thank you Brittany Gallagher!

Thank you AA Paula Andrew!

Please come back!!

Stokley Towles performs "Stormwater: Life in the Gutter" as part of SPP's Science and Sustainability Lecture Series at WCCW on May 1, 2012.

 

To donate to SPP and support science and sustainability education in unlikely places, please click here.

Inmates Participate in Egg Mass Surveying at West Rocky Prairie

Inmates Participate in Egg Mass Surveying at West Rocky Prairie, 2.28.12

By SPP Graduate Research Associate Andrea Martin

When Julie Tyson, a biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, took me and the two inmate frog technicians that are raising endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs (OSF) at Cedar Creek Correctional Center (CCCC), and two officers out to look for OSF egg masses, I was afraid I would walk right past them, or worse, step on one.

Lucky for all us egg survey newbies, Julie found the first one. It became pretty obvious that they would be hard to miss. The egg masses are very dark, and float at the surface of the shallow water in wetland areas like West Rocky Prairie. West Rocky Prairie, also known as Beaver Creek, is just 13 miles south of Olympia, and less than a mile from Millersylvania State Park. The site is one of a handful of areas in Western Washington where the endangered frogs lay eggs every season.

Oregon Spotted Frog season is now upon us, and the site of the nearly-black gelatinous spheres is the first sign of the reproduction of the endangered species. Soon, a few hundred OSF eggs will be brought into CCCC and several other institutions, and the rearing process will begin.

In total, we found 19 egg masses.  Thirteen were found on the West side of Beaver Creek, of these, 10 were new. On the East side, where our group was the first to survey of the year, we found six.  Several of the egg masses had freeze damage because of the erratic late-winter/early spring weather. It’s likely that the frogs have stopped laying for now until the weather warms a bit; Julie estimated that the most recent egg masses we found were 2-3 days old.

In addition to the OSF egg masses, the inmates, officers and I found many Northwest Salamander egg masses, which are gelatinous, but solid as a baseball. Despite the freezing weather, and threat of snow, the inmates really enjoyed the opportunity to get outside the prison walls, and to learn more about the project they are working so hard on.

This will be the 4th season that inmates at CCCC have raised endangered frogs. Both of the inmates who will be responsible for feeding the frogs, keeping them warm and safe and recording all the changes they will go through in their life cycle are veterans of the rearing process. They were new, however, to the first step of finding the eggs.

The inmates’ participation in the egg surveying at West Rocky Prairie shows a new level of trust and desire to collaborate between SPP and its partners. The frogs that are raised at CCCC are the biggest and healthiest of all of SPP’s rearing partners, due in large part to the amount of time and attention the inmate frog technicians are able to give to the animals. The frog rearing program at CCCC has been highly successful, and its importance has been recognized by SPP’s partners, other scientists, and the prison community. This contribution was a major factor in the decision by the Department of Corrections to allow the inmates to participate on Tuesday.

 

To donate to SPP and support the rearing of the Oregon spotted frog in Washington state, click here.

Inmate Frog Technicians Experiment with Cricket Rearing

Inmate Frog Technicians Experiment with Cricket Rearing

by: Inmate Frog Technicians at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

Editor’s note: Below is a message from our frog technicians at CCCC, who are currently experimenting with raising crickets to feed to the endangered Oregon spotted frogs being reared at their facility.

On 10/16/11, we received 65 over-winter frogs from a handful of sites. When received, frogs were about as big as dimes. Now they have grown to the size of half-dollars. They are doing very well, very good coloring, spotting on top and red on bottom.

When frogs were received, four frogs looked very bad and have since died. I don’t know what exactly was wrong with them, all I know is they would not eat and were very thin because of it. Except for that, everything has been going very smoothly.

We have now started a new cricket project. We have always bought our crickets from Fluker Farms to breed, but we have been unable to breed multiple generations with them.  Recently we got Jamaican Black Crickets from Woodland Park Zoo and we feel that we could breed a generation of these crickets.  What we hope to do is cross-breed European crickets with these Jamaican Black Crickets and try to get the long life span from the Jamaican but the easier edibility of the European House Crickets we buy from Flukers.

We are going to get 2500 European crickets (5 weekers) and 2500 Jamaican crickets (5 weekers) and raise them side by side, do everything the same between the tanks, food, water, temperature, etc. We are hoping to see which cricket is a more efficient candidate for our cricket project. And also see which crickets we can raise generations from.

In a totally separate experiment, we want to get 500 of each style crickets and raise them together in one tank, hoping to cross-breed these two crickets, getting traits from both.   We’ll see if that may be the best candidate for our cricket program.

Cricket Traits:

European House Cricket: The more popular of the cricket species, these crickets can grow up to 2cm in length. They are more extensively fed to reptiles. Easily digested.

Jamaican Black Cricket: These crickets grow fast and get bigger, probably reaching 3-4cm in length. In my experiences these crickets live longer and are easier to breed, but might be harder for the frogs to eat when they get too big.

To donate to SPP and support the rearing of the Oregon spotted frog in Washington state, click here.

SPP Plant Profile: Early-Blue Violet (Viola adunca)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Early-Blue Violet (Viola adunca) Photo: Rod Gilbert

Basic information:

Viola adunca, or early-blue violet, is a short perennial with short slender rhizomes. Leaves are alternate, heart shaped to ovate. The flowers of this viola are blue to deep violet, but can often be whitish at the base. Flowers have 5 petals, and bloom from April to August. Fruit are born in capsules with three valves, and the explosiveness of the splitting of the capsules often makes seed collection tricky.

Ecological Importance:

The Mardon skipper (Polites mardon) butterfly depends on Viola adunca as a spring-flowering nectar source. The small orange butterfly is found on two South Sound prairies, and is listed as a State Endangered Species and is a Federal Candidate Species. Zerene fritillaries (Speyeria zerene) also use Viola adunca, but as a larval host. Three subspecies of the Zerene Fritillary are listed on the U.S. Endangered Species List, including the Oregon Silverspot which is classified as threatened in California, Oregon and Washington.

Studies have found that Viola adunca are poor competitors, and are easily displaced by invasive species. Non-native grasses increase thatch density and vegetation height, compete for resources and reduce open space for germination and thus reduce Viola adunca populations. Experiments also show that fire stimulates germination in Viola adunca, and fire could be used to increase Viola adunca populations and provide more area for nectar and larval hosting for butterflies.

Early-Blue Violet (Viola adunca) Photo: Rod Gilbert

Fun facts:

Violet leaves contain more vitamin A than spinach, and a half-cup of leaves has more vitamin C than four oranges! Now, don’t go out and start eating, Viola adunca is a very important larval host and nectar source for threatened butterflies. Another reason to limit consumption: its rhizomes, fruits and seeds are poisonous. Adunca means hooked, and other common names include the hooked-spur violet and the western dog violet.