Foundations in Composting

SPP staff at Evergreen worked with numerous partners to develop a 2-credit Foundations in Composting course that builds on previous work in Washington State prisons and aims to provide foundational knowledge of composting science, techniques, and applications. The course provides education and training for small to large-scale composting programs. The Foundations in Composting course is developed for the classroom or similar teaching and learning spaces with opportunities for hands-on learning. This course is flexible, designed for the corrections environment, and can be led by a peer facilitator, other instructor, or volunteer. Students who complete this class and all required components will receive a Document of Completion which can be used to obtain transferrable college credit from The Evergreen State College. 

To learn more and download the course pdf, use this link:

Active worm bin compost managed by the sustainability crew at WCC, photo by Jennifer Bass.

Course Intent

  • Empower incarcerated individuals to educate themselves and each other with engaging, college-level content. 
  • Promote & recognize students’ academic, social, and professional skills.  
  • Build & support positive relationships and partnerships among incarcerated individuals, corrections staff & leadership, and outside partners.   
  • Support & improve composting programs at the host facility and ask incarcerated individuals to develop a culminating project which proposes a composting related program or plan for their respective facility. 
  • Increase access to nature & care for living things for the incarcerated population and corrections staff & leadership. 

The compost at WCC is utilized in their many gardens, and the black soldier fly larva are even used to feed the chickens! Photos by Jennifer Bass.

Course Learning Objectives 

  • Define basic principles and terminology used to plan, maintain, and use different types of compost. 
  • Describe the physical properties of soil. 
  • Summarize the benefits composting has on soil and plant health.  
  • Design small and large-scale compost operations.
  • Compare and contrast various composting processes, alternative methods, and small and commercial-scale systems. 
  • Apply mathematical principles to calculate appropriate nutrient levels, ratios of materials, and water content.  
  • Analyze soil composition, chemistry, and health.  
  • Explain the relationships between composting, the environment, and food waste. 
  • Design a plan for a composting related project at a WA DOC facility.  

Greenhouse and thermophilic composting bins at WCC in Shelton, photo by Emily Passarelli.

Course Structure 

  • Academic Credit: students can earn 2 credits in Introduction to Composting and Soil Science during incarceration through SPP’s Prior Learning Portfolio program at The Evergreen State College. 
  • Peer-led: program partners create a plan for who will facilitate, who will clerk, and who will offer expertise on various topics.  
  • At least $50 for every student; that’s the printing cost for a 400-page coursebook and every student needs their own. SPP-Evergreen may be able to supply Washington State programs.  
  • 35+ hours of content. If students can devote substantial time to homework outside class, the facilitators may reduce scheduled classroom time to ~15 hours.  
  • Supported by staff sponsors who track class & student completion; report completion & class feedback to SPP-Evergreen; award SPP-Evergreen certificates or credit-bearing Documents of Completion. 
  • Without electronic equipment needs — no PowerPoints or videos included in the course.   
  • For best results, provide classroom time for group study plus time for hands-on practice. The classroom space may be indoors or outdoors (conditions permitting). Ideally, students have access to composting systems as a group throughout the course; other approaches may work fine and will be less optimal.