Manistee worm farmer aims to reduce greenhouse gasses with wrigglers

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This is the first in an ongoing series about Michiganders working toward climate solutions. Know someone we should write about? Hit reply!


In Manistee, Michigan, hundreds of thousands of worms in large bins are feeding away at food scraps. The worms then poop, producing a compost that contains beneficial microbes, improves soil structure, and is rich in nutrients like nitrogen and potassium. It’s called vermicomposting.

The compost is highly valued by local gardeners and commercial growers alike that are all waiting for the Spring when they can buy it from the “wormshop” owned by Michigan Worm Works, a Manistee business. In addition to selling finished compost, the company also sells worms and kits for creating your own vermicomposting system at home.

The compost not only makes for an abundant garden, but it’s good for the planet.

“We're taking something that most people think of as trash, and we're converting it into a valuable product,” said Elana Warsen, founder of Michigan Worm Works. “It’s exciting that we’re able to divert waste that would otherwise go to the landfill and turn it into something that's not just neutralizing the environmental threat, but it's actually a net benefit to the environment.”


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According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food waste is the most common item sent to the landfill, accounting for 24 percent of landfill waste. Once in the landfill, the food decomposes, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide that traps 86 times as much heat. The impact is significant: Emissions from food waste are equivalent to 42 coal-fired plants.

Vermicomposting, however, can be one way for individuals to reduce their contributions to this waste. Astonishingly, worms eat half their body weight in food each day, and can eat everything from produce scraps to tea bags.

Nicola Philpott, a resident of Traverse City, recently became a customer of Michigan Worm Works.

“I was putting all these kitchen scraps in the trash and it was really frustrating to me,” she said. During the summer she regularly composts in her backyard. But in the winter, when the compost pile is frozen, she’s unable to use it.

She wanted to be able to use the kitchen scraps, even in the winter, to make compost for her large garden, but she was also concerned about the harmful impact of food waste on the environment.

“If we put food waste in the landfill it releases methane and that’s a huge issue for the climate,” she said.

Working with Michigan Worm Works was the perfect solution. When Philpott has kitchen scraps she takes them down to her basement where she has a bin, filled with leaves, vegetables, scraps, and worms. The worms silently work away at decomposing the food scraps, producing a nutrient-rich compost. And, the whole setup is odorless.

It’s important to note that a vermicomposting system requires a special kind of worms – regular worms from your backyard won’t work. But once you have the worms, besides adding in the food waste you already have, the whole system pretty much takes care of itself.

To find out more information about how you can vermicompost, check out Michigan State’s resource guide here. If you’re in the Manistee area, you can check out Michigan Worm Works in person, where their “wormshop” is available for touring.


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