Partnerships in Food Waste Reduction through Vermiculture

Final Report for FNC09-761

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $5,739.96
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Summary:

PROJECT BACKGROUND
We are a small, family-owned and run urban worm farm focusing on red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida, Eisenia andrei) for vermicomposting.

We began utilizing waste products as both feed stock and substrate for the worms and we continued this practice throughout the project.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION
One 20 Farm utilized the grant to grow the operating size as well as educational aspect of our vermicomposting business. We developed relationships with foodservice businesses to collect their waste products to use as feed stock for worms that we bred on both our home lot and on two satellite locations, Two Caterer’s Company and Flying J Farm. In addition to connecting food growers with consumers, we also developed an educational program for children and adults working with local schools, Columbus Parks and Recreation Department, and local “green” events coordinators. We educate the public on the importance of food waste reduction and recycling, and the role that worms could play in this effort.

GOALS
One20 Farm, a vermicomposting operation, proposes a workable system and multi-faceted outreach program to promote vermiculture as an efficient composting method by creating partnerships between restaurants and farmers to convert food waste into soil-improving material.
* Create a food wasted recovery system where the compostable material of a restaurant is converted through vermiculture into castings and byproducts (tea) used for soil improvement on a local farm.
* One20 Farm will serve as a bridge to connect local restaurants and farmers and to begin a triadic partnership that addresses the interests of all three groups: reducing waste removal costs for the restaurant, reducing landfill wastes and unnecessary damage to the environment, promotion of vermiculture as a composting method, and producing soil-improving castings benefitting the crop farmer.
* One20 will build a website documenting the project and gathering information on future participants. Also, One20 will create a Facebook account to spread the idea and gather feedback.
* At project mid-point, local newpapers will be contacted to give information on the project and develop a news story to generate interest in project workshops and future partnerships. Four workshops demonstrating vermicomposting and the benefits of food waste partnerships will be offered.

PROCESS
We worked with local solid waste authorities to ensure that we were not breaking any laws or going against current regulations with regard to food waste removal from food service operations. We developed an agreeable schedule with the businesses involved for regular waste pick up so as not to cause any unwanted odor or mess at the business site. We worked with a local farmer who was willing to allow us to utilize space on his farm. Together we reached an agreeable rental fee, site, and set of rules to govern how the project would be handled and how the land would be left at the end of the project. Finally we made room for adaptation of the project. Since this allowed us to grow our operation exponentially, we regularly ran into unforeseen obstacles that required us to take detours with the project while still arriving at a reasonable and acceptable end.

PEOPLE

  • Angela Petro; Two Caterers Company
  • John Skaggs; Heirloom Café
  • Dave Rokus; Crimson Cup Coffee Roasters
  • Barbie Luna; Luna Burger
  • Richard Jensen; Flying J Farm
  • Columbus Parks and Recreation Department
  • Emerson Magnet Elementary School
  • OEFFA (Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association)

RESULTS
Overall results were good. We determined vermicomposting is a feasible means of dealing with foodservice waste but would also need to be augmented with other methods such as aerobic composting and/or anaerobic digester for optimum success. The reason for this is that some places can’t separate dairy and meat from their food waste and worm composting doesn’t do well with these items. To really attack the food waste issue a food digester would make a great addition.

The project requires a large quantity of space that meets minimal requirements for worm health (i.e. shelter from direct sun while allowing for rain, shelter from extreme cold, and wind).

The project requires far less labor in maintaining the windrows or bins as compared to active aerobic composting which requires periodic turning or aeration. Windrows are about 250 sq feet. We are expanding the windrows now to utilize more space. We harvest about 150-250 pounds of worm castings per windrow.

One major drawback was the time involved in picking up the waste product from multiple sites and making sure the containers used for pick-up were in suitable condition.

The companies we work with now love us. We plan to do more but right now we are limited on time. The catering company loves our pick ups, it reduces their trash pick up by 50%. Right now we can’t charge for pick up in Columbus, but we regain our costs with worm casting sales.

In regards to the educational aspect of the project, for future courses we will offer workshops and classes at a cost to the student or company hosting the class; we ran into a number of events that were not very well marketed by the host and thus had few attendees. This was financially difficult for us as it took valuable time away from work and family with little or no compensation. For the purposes of this project, we were able to make some balance with the grant funds. On the positive side, we witnessed enthusiastic adoption of vermicomposting on the part of all our children’s classes, and about 25 percent of the adults educated expressed interest in either composting or vermicomposting to reduce their waste output.

DISCUSSION
We learned how different some endeavors can be based solely on the size of operation. Vermicomposting in your house with your own waste is very different than doing it on a large commercial scale, even a small urban farm scale like ours. We have greatly increased our audience/customer base through the work done on this project. From our website and Facebook page to our public green events to newspaper and TV segments, we have been approached by interested people. Adopting a project like ours is advantageous as far as turning over product, that is, the worms reproduce rapidly and they convert waste into fertilizer rapidly. The drawback is that you need a lot of space and if you are doing it in an urban setting, you need to be extra careful not to attract unwanted attention be it from rodents pests or annoyed neighbors that think your project smells bad.

OUTREACH
We utilized any opportunities we could to inform people about our project. Primarily we used our blog, Facebook, and e-mails. The audience for these announcements ranged from friends and family to customers, to other local farmers and people who simply liked what we were doing and signed up for e-mail updates.

Field days or green events ranged in attendance (at our booth) from 25 – 200 people depending on the event attendance and structure. We do about 6-10 outreach events each year. We hope to further inform the public via online interviews done by a local non –profit, as well as local printed and internet reporting media (online newspaper and printed local food magazine).

Research

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.