Worm Farming in a Correctional Facility

by Hannah
(University of Central Missouri)

Worm Farming in Correctional Facilities Hannah 1

Worm Farming in Correctional Facilities Hannah 1

Worm Farming in Correctional Facilities Hannah 1
Worm Farming in Correctional Facilities Hannah 2
Worm Farming in Correctional Facilities Hannah 3
Worm Farming in Correctional Facilities Hannah 4

I am a teaching assistant and researcher at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Missouri pursing a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies. My passions surround the care and concern for the natural environment but interests lie in the United States’ correctional system.


I am currently working in a medium-security correctional center in the mid-western United States implementing a new environmental education program highlighting vermicomposting and traditional thermophilic waste management practices.

I am administering two, back-to-back, 12 week programs comprised of 25 incarcerated individuals each. I meet with the students twice a week for two hours each day totaling a 48 hour program.

My first objective
is to identify and assess behavioral implications of student participation in the environmental education program. The program is concentrated on developing various composting practices, as well as exposure to more broad environmental topics.

The program is instructed utilizing cognitive-behavioral techniques and places an emphasis on participatory learning. My methods focus on cognitive-behavioral techniques aimed at enhancing self-control, improving cognitive style, and encouraging interpersonal problem solving and critical reasoning abilities—skills often lacking in incarcerated individuals.

In addition, participatory learning emphasizes pluralistic ways of thinking, learning, and acting to foster success within the program and build essential technical and behavioral skills for reentry into society.

My second objective
is to identify and implement the most efficient arrangement of waste management practices to the correctional institution—vermicomposting followed by thermophilic composting or thermophilic composting followed by vermicomposting.

Vermicomposting is a process by which earthworms are used to break down organic waste material. This practice has the potential to provide a wealth of benefits from nutrient-rich horticultural and agricultural fertilizer to cost reductions in waste management services.

Earthworms consume organic waste but only absorb 5-10%. The rest of the material is excreted in the form of nitrate, phosphate and potash rich accumulations ideal for fertilizer. Earthworm activities enhance natural biodegradation and decomposition of wastes anywhere from 60-80%, and can degrade most organic wastes by 80-100% within 6-8 weeks, making vermicomposting practices both practical and timely for correctional institutions with large amounts of organic waste.

However, earthworms are temperature tolerant and necessitate temperatures below pathogen-elimination levels. Traditional thermophillic composting, on the other hand, is a process by which elevated temperatures are maintained to break down organic waste material.

This practice does not require temperature tolerant organisms and can reach temperatures high enough to eliminate harmful pathogens, but does not produce a product as nutrient-rich as vermicomposting. Combining the two practices could potentially produce a nutrient-rich, pathogen-free fertilizer, while at the same time reducing institutional operating costs and environmental footprints by diverting food waste from local landfills.

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Oct 02, 2014
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Incarcerated worm farm
by: Dale Robinson

Sounds like a very worthwhile endeavor. At least you have a captive audience.

I like the concept of pre composting before sending it to the worms. In my case, I avoid the thermal heating and rely entirely on the worms to compost the material. I'm thinking I'll have to change that.

I have been working with ex-felons for about 2 years now. I'm a little concerned about how they intend to apply the practices they learned once released from the institution. All the ex-felons I have hired have expressed interest in how they can use the vermicasts to grow illegal crops.

There is little hope that ex-felons will accept their freedom for very long if they are stereotyped into accepting a minimal wage. Most of them owe back child support and will not be able to pay rent or sustain themselves on what is left. For some of the ex-felons, this is a big change in lifestyle and the temptation to return to the activities that got them incarcerated in first place is going to be very strong.

One thing I have noticed about ex-felons is that they need a lot of structure. Unfortunately, Tending a worm farm tends to be somewhat unstructured. Everything can be done whenever they get around to it. This results in low production and they tend to work only long enough to meet their basic needs. Please keep in mind that having been incarcerated they become rather lazy and lack the concept of working for the future.

There is a lot to be aware of when dealing with felons. What you are doing is commendable. It would be great if they learned how to make a livable wage with this information.

Oct 02, 2014
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Vermicomosting in Correctional Facilities
by: Pauly

I must say Hannah, this really strikes a chord with me personally as we know of someone who is incarcerated that we write every now and then. Sometimes we write to them about our garden and how the worm castings have done amazing things for our plants.

I think we have given them the vermiculture bug. They are very excited about starting their own garden and staying busy using the vermicompost that they will be making all year round.

I know a thing or two about gardening and it does keep you very busy depending on how big you want to go with it. We even have a contributor to this website who does worm farming in her apartment and also grows her own food indoors.

I think this is something to work towards in the educational field for inmates. Staying busy on a project that rewards you and/or can profit from is something to look forward to.

Thank you so much for sharing I look forward to hearing what others say about worm farming in correctional facilities. Keep up the noble work and know that you are very appreciated ;)

~Pauly

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