The operation consists of a starting stock of 110lbs of Red Wiggler Composting worms. These worms are split between 3 beds and each bed has three compartments. In each of these beds the worms will be fed in 2-month periods after which they will be lured (by food) into performing horizontal migration (moving from the first into the second of the three compartments in each bed.) This migration is conducted so that the worms leave their bed of castings and harvesting is made much easier. Partnerships have been formed with area schools and one area grocery store to provide food waste feedstock to the worms. In the spring Lawrence Worm Farm will begin to shift focus from growing the worm stock to marketing the worm castings and worms.
The project is one of social entrepreneurship, focusing on utilizing the latent energy available in foodwaste and to transform that energy into a nutrient rich soil amendment (natural fertilizer) via Red Wiggler composting worms. Ideally the project would influence policy within the municipality of Lawrence, KS by paving the way for composting of food waste by the city/county.
Within our current system, food waste is an endemic problem. Recognizing the latent potential in what is often
cited as 41% of overall generated waste, there are a number of ways to reclaim and put this latent resource back
into a sustainable energy cycle. Left to current methods, food waste is a staunch contributor to global warming,
creating methane gas as a bi-product of its putrefaction in the non-aerobic environment that is our common
landfill. In addition, this great mass of waste (41% overall) also requires regular transportation, causing more use
of fossil fuels in an effort to remove the resource from its community of potential use.
One solution to the above stated problem is to keep food waste where it is created. This can be achieved by
implementing a method of upcycling via the materials latent potential. Through vermicomposting practices the
once discarded and costly food waste becomes an abundant resource for generating the nutrient rich soil
amendment known as worm castings. By shifting the current paradigm, we tap into a new market for food waste
reclamation that is sustainable and cyclical in its use as a resource.
Within the 23 month grant period our goal is to take the 200lbs of worm livestock afforded through this grant and
to grow that stock to 1000lbs. Doing so would allow us to accommodate the processing of 500lbs of food waste
per day resulting in a yield of roughly 5,000lbs of worm castings per month. This intentional slow-growth model
will allow for the identification of best practices, reliable community partners and applicable markets.
Through the test plot component of this grant we will have clear evidence and an example of the benefits of worm
castings in a controlled growth environment. These results will be used for educational purposes and for
marketing of the worm castings. The grand hope beyond the grant cycle is that this specific approach to food
waste mitigation become part of the county’s food policy plan mirroring in scale that of our current recycling
program. As a grand bonus, the community would be flush with rich soil and an extended life for our city dump.
This venture seeks to be both economically and ethically sustainable in approach, practice and outcomes.
The project objectives remain consistent. (at least at this mid-way point in the project.)
- Keep food waste where it is created. Through vermicomposting practices, once discarded and costly food waste becomes an abundant resource for generating the nutrient rich soil amendment known as worm castings.
- Scale up. Grow 200lbs of worm livestock to 1000lbs in order to scale up and accommodate the processing of 500lbs of food waste per day resulting in a yield of roughly 5,000lbs of worm castings per month. This intentional slow-growth model will allow for the identification of best practices, reliable community partners and applicable markets.
- Moving this project from a purely educational model to one that also provides sustainable revenue. A test plot will be constructed to inform growing methods as to the best possible worm casting content for different crops. The harvest of the test plots will yield an economic benefit for Lawrence Organics.
- Outreach will happen at Lawrence area schools and through the Sunrise Project greenhouse site. There will also be outreach conducted via local news media and social media including Facebook, Instagram, Lawrence Journal World, and Channel 6 News. The Lawrence Worm Farm website will be created to serve as a hub for information on the project and as a general source for information with specific focus on Lawrence Worm Farm products and the results (video and photo) of the test plot grown by Lawrence Organics. A full color, Tri-fold pamphlet will be created for distribution via the Sunrise Project mailing list and at events such as the Lawrence Farmers Market. Students will visit the Worm Farm each fall to harvest worms for practical and
educational use on site at their schools.
From my experience, many worm farmers get caught up on the devices and tools of the process. I have researched and studied the tools and applications and have decided to go with very basic approaches. Instead of creating a flow-through digestor (very expensive) for the worm farm, I have simply created raised beds to facilitate the feeding and breeding of the worms. This has decreased my costs and has allowed me to focus on the worms and the feed sources instead of the tools and implements. I will have more to share about my processes and care for the worms both in terms of breeding and feeding in the final report.
TBD (final report)
Educational & Outreach Activities
Much of the work that has been happening through Lawrence Worm Farm has been in partnership with the local 497 school district. Since the beginning of the school year 8 tours of students have come to the site for field trips to learn about vermiculture as it relates to food waste, symbiosis, sustainability and local economies. Students receive a presentation, are able to handle the worms, ask questions and are invited to visit the space whenever they like. In addition to the site visits, Lawrence Worm Farm is also working within the schools to perform food waste audits of the cafeterias and to develop programming for on-site vermicomposting of generated food wastes. Going forward, once our pamphlets are created we will begin to invite the community at large to take part in educational workshops and workshops on how to construct their own home worm bin.
Many of the learning outcomes that have developed from this grant have been through the international worm conference I was able to attend in Raleigh NC in October of this year. The conference was great. Presenters from all over the world, presenting on many different approaches to vermiculture, vermicomposting and food waste mitigation spoke on the dynamics and tools of industrial vermiculture and the dynamics and tools of a more social justice based approach to food waste recovery/mitigation/composting. Many of the presenters were directly paired with large bovine operations and were harvesting the solid waste of animals for use in their feed for wormstock. Nearly all of the presenters practiced some form of pre-composting of feedstocks being fed to the worms. Personally I was interested in the tools and approaches of the larger industrial operations happening in more rural areas but truly my interest lies in the implementation of this work in urban areas with high concentrations of generated food waste. There are similar operations to what I am constructing in DC and Austin Texas. There is also a good model in Nottingham England. I’ve made a point to get into contact/or acquire the contact info for these folks and will be in touch with them as the Lawrence Worm Farm operation grows. There were lots of other details and nuances that tend more towards the science end of things, Some of this made sense to me, some of it is really meant for scientists. One thing that I did learn that will be very helpful for the test plot is that other studies have found between 15-20% worm castings to generally be the best mixture for increasing health and yield.
Education has also come through the trial and error process of growing from a small educational pilot operation into a mid-scale operation with business aspirations. The education from the afforded opportunities is ongoing and this is something that I would like to elaborate upon more in the final report.
The project remains in a development phase as it is only half-way complete. I will have much more to report in the final documentation/final report