In the Washington state prison system, can food waste programs rehabilitate the planet and provide for incarcerated people’s futures?

Nick Hacheney, nicknamed the “Worm Dude,” worked tirelessly for years to build a respected waste management system that used worms to convert discarded food into fertilizer at the Washington State Reformatory, where he was incarcerated. When the facility closed, the waste project went down with it. About a year ago, Hacheney received and accepted an offer to relocate and start a similar program at a different corrections center. The new venture is being supported with the help of the Sustainability in Prison Project (SPP), a program designed to provide people behind bars with skills in sustainable practices and reduce the environmental footprint of prisons. Hacheney’s right-hand man and former lead technician at the Monroe worm farm, Juan Hernandez, joined the new endeavor, and together the two started a nonprofit incubator designed to help incarcerated people launch their own programs in environmental or sustainability fields. The idea behind their efforts is simple, according to Hacheney, who co-wrote a piece on them for Modern Farmer: “Prisons have a huge environmental and social impact; they’re bad for the people who live there, the people who work there, and for the planet.” Hernandez puts it this way: “It’s not just about recycling food waste, it’s about recycling people.” —Alex Hinton