Tag Archives: incarcerated technicians

Why Aquaponics in Prison?

By William Rathgeber, SPP Biological Science Technician. Photos by Marisa Pushee.

In early 2018, the Sustainability in Prison Project (SPP) partnered with Symbiotic Cycles to bring aquaponic gardening to Cedar Creek Corrections Center. I joined the program in spring of 2019 and I’m excited to be a part of this project because I view sustainability as a critical element of food security. This program exposes incarcerated individuals like myself to a new skill set required for maintaining alternative agriculture practices. I have also been excited to learn that this rapidly growing field is gaining momentum worldwide both as a backyard hobby and as a larger-scale means to harvest produce without tilling and weeding.

From left to right: SPP Biological Science Technician William Rathgeber, Symbiotic Cycles Co-founder Nick Naselli, and SPP Biological Science Technician Sanchez Bagley.

Aquaponic gardens can produce food naturally and organically with much less water than a conventional garden. Aquaponics is also more sustainable than traditional farming practices. The project comprises of an aquaculture system based on a symbiotic relationship between bacteria, plants, and fish in a closed ecosystem. The plants grow in a soil-free aquaculture and the plant roots clean the water for the fish while the fish provide nutrients for the plants. The plants and the fish work together so the water can be recycled indefinitely. Only evaporated water needs to be replenished. 

Environmental, economic, and health concerns are excellent reasons to adopt an aquaponic garden. Aquaponic gardening offers a chance to reduce our carbon footprint because the produce being harvested doesn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to your grocery store. It also doesn’t add fertilizers that can pollute the local water reservoir or harm the local flora and fauna. Additionally, aquaponics is becoming popular among young and old locavores (people who buy local) concerned with nutrition, avoiding artificial additives, and protecting the environment.

Kale has been a consistent success in the system, growing well through the winter.

In an increasingly environmental and sustainable focused world, these alternative agriculture practices prepare incarcerated individuals to have skill sets that will compete with the changing times. While incarcerated, we are not only educated in this alternative aquaculture practice but we get to provide the fruits of our labor to the kitchen for mainline meals. The Cedar Creek aquaponics system is supported by the design team at Symbiotic Cycles. They also provide consultation and informational on-site visits conducting hands-on question/answer seminars for Cedar Creek SPP Technicians and Centralia College Horticulture students.

Wastewater Treatment at Olympic Corrections Center Continues to Impress

Text and Photos by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Olympic Corrections Center once again earned an Outstanding Performance Award in 2018. Photo courtesy of Department of Ecology.

Olympic Corrections Center (OCC)’s wastewater treatment plant is among the best in the state. The Department of Ecology (DOE) has recognized OCC’s outstanding performance, and for being 100% compliant, for 8 consecutive years. In 2018, OCC once again earned an Outstanding Performance recognition. A blog posted by DOE highlighted OCC’s accomplishments with a quote from Mike Henry, the Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator:

“We have won the award quite a few times and I think everyone is determined to win the award because they don’t want to be the first group of operators to not win it. The operators are proud of the awards. We have them hanging in the lab, except for the ones hanging in our administration building. That makes me think that our administration is as proud of our achievements as we are.”

And the administration certainly is—they proudly showed the awards to me as soon as I arrived.

Everyone at the facility is very proud of the program, and they should be. OCC’s team consistently averages 0.4 mg/L of suspended solids in their wastewater. DOE requires that the maximum limit of suspended solids in wastewater amounts to 30 mg/L. That means their wastewater contains 98.7% less than the maximum limit. Keep up the great work, OCC!

Below are pictures of the treatment plant showing the journey that OCC’s wastewater goes through before flowing into the nearby river. Take a look!

The first stop in the wastewater journey is this big pool where the water is aerated.
This is a secondary clarifier that allows for solids to sedimentate out of the water.
This is one of their secondary clarifiers that was empty for its regular cleaning.
One of the last stops the water goes through is to be disinfected by this UV disinfectant.
All of the wastewater is tested throughout the process to ensure that it is up to regulation and that everything is operating the way it should be. This is the lab that incarcerated participants use to test the water.
The solids from the treatment are used in OCC’s large-scale composting operation. The compost is also fed by food and yard waste from around the facility.
The compost is used around the facility to create and stimulate soil. Here, the compost has been used to foster the garden expansion around the greenhouses.