Aquaponics in Prisons (2/3) — Rehabilitating Offenders

Officer Michael “Mac” McLeon is using aquaponics to improve the Texas Prison System.  We interviewed Mac and uncovered three key points about aquaponics in prisons. In the first post of this series, we discussed the first point: aquaponics in prisons saves taxpayers money. In this post, we discuss how aquaponics is rehabilitating offenders in the prison population.

In one school of thought, incarceration is punishment for wrongs committed. But another perspective is that incarceration is an opportunity for inmates to rehabilitate themselves so they can productively and peacefully re-enter society. Aquaponics is proving to be a valuable tool in rehabilitating inmates.

Aquaponics gives offenders a challenging, productive way to use their time. And, very importantly, it equips inmates with a productive skill to use upon release.

Mac notes that aquaponics provides skills in agriculture, construction, nutrition, landscaping, and water management. These are skills that are extremely valuable as the growing organic / local movement progresses. These are skills that will give inmates a better chance at securing jobs AND at being able to supply healthy food for themselves.

In addition to skill-development, aquaponics is good for inmates physical and mental health. By learning aquaponics and growing plants from seed to harvest, inmates develop a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

The Aquaponics Association has been supporting Mac in his efforts to spread aquaponics to prisons nationwide. Recently, Aquaponics Association Senior Advisor Kate Wildrick interview Mac.

See the full Mac interview

Stay tuned for our third and final key takeaway from our interview with Mac.

Aquaponics in Prisons (1/3) — Saving Taxpayers Money

Officer Michael “Mac” McLeon is using aquaponics to transform the Texas Prison System.

Mac’s team set a goal to use aquaponics and grow a salad per day for their entire unit, including inmates AND the officers since they share the same meals. They are currently well on their way to the goal – at one salad every two weeks.

And this is not some limp-leaved lump of soggy lettuce… these are good salads! (see pic below). In addition to lettuce, the program also grows sun-loving fruiting crops like tomatoes and cucumbers, and fresh herbs for the dressing!

The Aquaponics Association has been supporting Mac in his efforts to spread aquaponics to prisons nationwide. Recently, Aquaponics Association Senior Advisor Kate Wildrick interview Mac and uncovered three key takeaways.

Check out the Exclusive Interview with Officer Mac: How Aquaponics is Transforming the Texas Prison System  (http://bit.ly/2HE7zJI)

Aquaponics in Prisons Saves Taxpayer Money

Macs interview revealed three key points. In this post, we’ll discuss the first key point: aquaponics in prisons can save taxpayers money in a variety of ways.

For starters, aquaponics directly reduces the amount of food that prisons must purchase by supplementing meals with onsite produce. The cost to grow crops inside the prison is minimal. Mac estimates that he saves the State of Texas $0.40 for every head of lettuce they grow. Imagine how much they could save Texas taxpayers with a bigger operation!

In addition to the direct savings of growing their own food, aquaponics in prisons can save taxpayers money in two major long-term ways: 1) lower inmate healthcare costs from dietary based diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure; and 2) reduced recidivism by giving inmates a meaningful, rewarding skill they can employ once released.

In some states, the cost per inmate can be up to $60,000 per year. Mac notes that most inmates will one day be released. Aquaponics can give these citizens a positive skill to keep them from backsliding into the system, which is a major cost.

Stay tuned for the next two Key Points of Aquaponics in Prisons!

Aquaponics in the Texas Prison System

Check out Kate Wildrick’s exclusive interview: How Aquaponics is Transforming the Texas Prison System. (link: http://bit.ly/2HE7zJI)

Stay tuned for much more, Officer “Mac” McLeon is only beginning to revolutionize the nation’s criminal justice system with sustainable agriculture!

Mac will be at the Aquaponics Association’s Annual Conference this September at Kentucky State University, we hope to see you there.

 

New Aquaponics Report from ATTRA

ATTRA just published a report: Aquaponics – Multitrophic Systems for Food Production. This Report introduces aquaponic systems, discusses economics and getting started, and includes an extensive list of resources that point the reader to print and online educational materials for further technical assistance. The Report is free to download here: http://bit.ly/2UckGKf

ATTRA is a sustainable agriculture program developed and managed by the National Center for Appropriate Technology.

Aquaponics Association Chairman Brian Filipowich was interviewed by author Lee Rinehart to give background information for the Report. Check out the podcast recording: http://bit.ly/2Fgh1lW

Community Aquaponics Discussions, Theme #2: Location Considerations

In the first post of this series, we described what we mean by “Community Aquaponics”. Then, we identified the first of three themes from the Community Aquaponics breakout discussion groups: Community Involvement. In this post, we look at the second theme identified by the Community breakout discussion groups:

Location Considerations

By Tawnya Sawyer

There are so many creative locations that have already proven successful for community aquaponics. Some of those include: roof tops, community gardens and community centers, schools, universities and early childhood education centers, orphanages, food banks, homeless shelters, places of worship, detention centers, housing developments, villages and many more. Some of these locations enjoy the fresh food options and can use the aquaponic system as a means for education, nutrition, self-reliance, job skill training and food production.  Planning the proper location is a critical first step (prior to construction), to ensure that the system can be operated in the selected location long term. Some considerations for success include:

–Ensure that the greenhouse, community garden or aquaponic system is allowed to be operated within the city, county or zoning where it is being planned;

–Make sure that the location has adequate sunlight (southern facing), access to water, electricity, as well as necessary temperature and humidity controls (heating in winter if cold climate, and cooling in summer);

–Develop a partnership or leasehold agreement if the system will be installed in someone else’s building or property; and

–Consider any additional insurance, taxes, utilities and other expenses might be incurred where the system will be located.

Stay tuned to hear the last theme our discussion groups identified.

Tawnya Sawyer is the Director of Colorado Aquaponics and a Board Member of the Aquaponics Association

 

Community Aquaponics Discussions, Theme #1: Community Involvement

In the first post of this series, we described what we mean by “Community Aquaponics”. In this post, we talk about the first of three themes identified by the Community breakout discussion groups at our 2018 Hartford conference.

By Tawnya Sawyer

Community Involvement

Getting the community involved in building and operating a garden and aquaponic system can be a challenge. Since aquaponics requires continuous involvement to monitor the equipment, feed the fish and maintain the plants, it is critical to have a key person take the lead on these management activities. Often people that are excited to get started, may have a difficult time committing long term. Community volunteers can assist in maintaining the system, but without a strong lead, the system will be neglected. Some of the tactics discussed that have been implemented with success at various community aquaponic projects include:

  • Planning for and hiring a project lead or champion to manage the construction of the system. That same person(s) may also then be involved in daily operations once the system is up and running. There are examples of both paid and unpaid positions, ut the key is to ensure that some takes that ownership and responsibility. It is also necessary that they have the time and energy to commit to the necessary tasks.
  • Having a schedule, training and management of volunteers was necessary to ensure that everyone was participating, following food safety guidelines and working effectively together. Volunteer and intern activities were commonly coordinated by the farm manager person.
  • Having a means to get food or training to the community being served is necessary to meet people where they are. This has meant providing cooking classes, free samples, recipes, alternate forms of payment, different ways to pickup or deliver the food products, building trust and connections, and helping people value the quality of the food. Working with a community who has previously not had access to nutritious food is a learning curve and takes times to implement.

Tawnya Sawyer is the Director of Colorado Aquaponics and a Board Member of the Aquaponics Association

 

Community Aquaponics Discussions; Intro

By Tawnya Sawyer

The Hartford, CT Aquaponic Association conference included a Community aquaponics track for people to share their projects, stories and ideas on how aquaponics can create a positive outcome for communities, and also challenges that must be addressed to move forward. Having coordinated, presented, and attended the Community conference tracks since 2011, I continue to be impressed and inspired with the quality of the information.

Community aquaponics is all about getting highly nutritious food directly to the consumer without the hundreds to thousands of “food miles” or distance from farm to the table. Obviously this has become a popular concept in urban gardening and farming. But aquaponics can do this even better since an aquaponic system can be setup in a parking lot, repurposed in an old building, shed, barn, garage or greenhouse.

Community aquaponics is generally considered growing food for the purpose of serving a specific location or group of people. This may be for profit or non-profit oriented. Community aquaponics often has an open-door policy, meaning they encourage participation from volunteers, interns, schools, and the general public. They may have access to different funding methods that wouldn’t normally be available to someone building aquaponics for themselves or as a business. Some community aquaponics visions have been very altruistic, seeking to help others by all means, but those that have been successful have recognized the importance of operating like a business and ensuring they can be financially viable.

In the next three segments, we’ll discuss in more detail the top three themes that conference participants identified in community aquaponics: community involvement, location considerations, and financial challenges.

Tawnya Sawyer is the Director of Colorado Aquaponics and a Board Member of the Aquaponics Association

New Report Sets Targets for Global Sustainable Food Production

A new report from the EAT-Lancet Commission for Food, Planet, and Health offers scientific targets for global sustainable food production. The report also conveys an urgent need to change the way we produce our food.

See the report:  EAT Lancet Report

The EAT-Lancet Commission sets quantifiable targets for change, like reducing food system carbon dioxide emissions 2020. Researchers believe these parameters will return the food system to within sustainable planetary limits.

Reports such as the EAT-Lancet Commission for Food, Planet, and Health demonstrate the need for more efficient food production methods like aquaponics. Aquaponic growers around the world have proven we can grow fresh produce and healthy fish from barren deserts to urban rooftops. Aquaponics uses over 90% less water than traditional soil culture, does not emit toxic agricultural runoff, and does not require synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, or fertilizers.

Please see similar resources that call for a change in our food production system:

TEEB Agrifood

True Cost Accounting – Sustainable Food Trust

email: info@aquaponicsassociation.org

PODCAST – Assoc Chairman Talks Aquaponics’ Future

Aquaponics Association Chairman Brian Filipowich discusses the future of aquaponics with Lee Rinehart of the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.

Listen to the podcast from the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT):

 Aquaponics, a Primer

full link to podcast: https://attra.ncat.org/category/audio/