Safety First: The New and Improved SOIL Lab!
A few months ago, our team in northern Haiti moved into our beautiful, eco-friendly, cost-effective new office on our farm outside of Cap-Haitien. But we left one thing behind in our old office: the lab! Due to the unique demands of a lab space, it took a bit more time to get set up than the rest of the office. But finally, our new lab is up and running with a built-in sink and back-up power supply ready to go!
The SOIL lab is essential to SOIL’s mission to transform waste into resources: it helps us ensure that the compost we produce is ready and safe for agricultural use. Although our waste treatment process far surpasses the safety guidelines for ecological sanitation established by the World Health Organization, lab testing provides an additional layer of certainty. This is also important in helping people overcome the “ick factor” of using compost made from human waste, and even more so in the context of the worst cholera epidemic in recent history, which has increased awareness about disease-causing bacteria among the Haitian population.
So before any of our compost can start nourishing mango tree seedlings or pepper plants, it ends up here in the SOIL lab. First, each compost sample is treated with a series of dilutions. Then the sample bottles are lined up in a sealed tray to be incubated for 24 hours, after which time the presence of E. Coli and other pathogens become visible under UV light. The next day, we are able to read the results and verify that the compost is safe to use.
Nathalie, SOIL’s Lab Supervisor says: “I’m happy about the new lab because this is dedicated lab space, as opposed to our set-up in the old office. We also have some new supplies that were donated that will help us function better. New office, new lab!”
Many thanks to IDEXX Laboratories, which has generously outfitted our lab with their reagent and sampling bottles for testing. Thanks also to the many donors who have helped us with supplies from our wish list!
And special thanks to all those who have provided advice, training, and consultation to SOIL staff on laboratory protocols and composting testing procedures: the re.source sanitation team of Stanford University, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University, and DNA Everywhere in collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory