That’s a common reaction many people have when they first hear the term. Probably, it’s because worm farming is not very common.
The concept of worm farming was new to me when I first heard of it in the mid 1990s and developed an immediate interest in the subject. As I traveled about, visiting worm farms and talking to worm farmers, I began to acquire knowledge that few possessed. In order to share that information with others, I turned to the internet, which, at that time, was still in its early stages for commercial use. I had a few books about worms and other items to sell and some folks were actually offended that we dared to use the internet to sell our information and products.
Of course much on the internet has changed since then. And worm farming has changed too.
One of the most frequent questions we have been asked is, “How can I visit a worm farm?” That’s not a bad question. In fact, after finding out about worm farming, that was what I set out to do. I wanted to see a worm farm for myself. And I was fortunate to visit several and build relationships with worm farmers along the way. Thankfully, they allowed me to tell their stories.
What is recorded in the following pages are stories of worm farms in the US. You’ll find they are similar in many ways, yet each operation conducts its business in a little different manner from the others. Today, you may not find it easy to visit a worm farm. After all, worm farming is a business and many business owners are not too inclined to give up their valuable time to conduct free tours to folks who just might become competitors! Books like this, then, actually provide a reasonable substitute for the time, travel arrangements and expense one would incur in trying to locate an operation that would be open to the idea of conducting a free tour. Many worm farmers would actually prefer you read a book on the subject than contact them in person.
Worm farming seemed to take a dramatic turn at about the time I became involved. This was largely due to increased environmental concerns about what to do with our waste. California and a few other states began firming up their regulatory oversight of waste management. It was widely reported by USEPA and other environmental agencies that up to 60% of what was thrown away as garbage was organic. This meant that, rather than bear the cost of collecting, transporting and burying organic waste in a landfill, these residuals could be recycled (closer to the source—in some cases) by composting. And, yes, even worms could have a part in this effort through what became known as vermicomposting.
And so, with titles like Mary Appelhof’s Worms Eat My Garbage, interest grew in earthworms providing a remedy for our waste management problems. As it turned out, the answer had always been directly under out feet!
In California, where municipalities were threatened by fines of up to $10,000 per day if they failed to reduce their waste by 50%, vermicomposting sites sprang up, offering a way to turn garbage into gold. The gold, of course, consisted of worm castings, also known as vermicompost, nature’s best fertilizer. Now it was possible for these landfill diversion sites to earn income from three possible streams: 1) Tip fees collected when organic residuals were trucked to their sites (dump trucks “tipped” their contents on the ground and paid a fee to do so); 2) sales of earthworms, since they were reported to multiply rapidly; and 3) sales of earthworm castings for use in agriculture and horticulture. While the forecast for these vermicomposting operations seemed bright (regulatory agencies were pushing municipalities to find solutions quickly, and income would come from both incoming raw materials and outgoing products!) the management of several of these businesses failed miserably. Mismanagement showed up variously through greed, disregarding regulations and best management practices, and outright fraud. In short, it wasn’t through worm error that many of these businesses failed; it was due to human error. But the demise of many of these larger operations shouldn’t discourage us. Instead, it’s possible to learn from their mistakes. What you’ll find in the pages ahead is a realistic portrayal of what the business of vermicomposting is all about.
Welcome to the world of worms! What started out in the US as vermiculture (raising earthworms to increase their supply, largely for re-sale as bait), eventually became vermicomposting—using earthworms to transform organic waste into worm castings.
This is the story of vermiculture and vermicomposting in the United States. Come take the tour of some of the leading worm farms in the country.
To take a tour of 15 Worm Farms in the US see VermiCo’s newest ebook..