Monday, July 9, 2007

Free-range Worms

At the Growing Grower's workshop this evening, we watched a short video on TerraCycle, a company which is mass producing "worm poop" from municipal garbage in a huge greenhouse-like structure full of conveyor belts and mechanical systems.

The worms are growing in stacked trays. They have everything they need: a perfect environment, perfectly balanced food. They make lots of poop and multiply at an incredible rate. The implication was that this is a wonderful, innovative"green" company producing a "green" product (it's packaged in reused pop bottles). The products are (fanfare here) marketed through WalMart, Home Depot, etc.

Then the video showed a clip of cattle in a feedlot, and talked about how awful it is to raise cattle like that.

But TerraCycle is raising worms like that. Worms that never taste real rainwater, never experience the daily and seasonal temperature shifts, never consort with all the other denizens of a natural environment, never have the excitement of a robin's footsteps in their life. Worms that are taken from their cookie-cutter homes periodically and run through a huge tumbling machine to separate them from their poop.

This is "organic"? I'm appalled. It doesn't even seem humane to me! If that's organic, I'm glad I'm NOT organic. (I guess I must be "post-organic" or something like that.)

The video gives me a new understanding of my farm, though. I guess I'm raising free-range worms at Pinwheel Farm. Locally-grown chemical-free free range worms, at that.

The first year I gardened on the farm ground, I rarely saw a worm in all my digging (I used to do a lot of digging). What worms I did see were the ones I call "green curlies", which I'd previously only seen associated with anaerobic soils along creek banks. The longer the land has been free of constant plowing/tilling, chemical fertilizers, and herbicides, the more worms I see. There are at least three distinct species now, including some of the largest and strongest nightcrawlers I've ever seen.

I don't get too sentimental when I accidentally injure a worm with a gardening tool, but I do think about them as I work and use tools and methods that are good for the worms. I appreciate the work they do, not only decomposing things into poop, but also mixing the soil while keeping it aerated and well-drained. I try to leave them alone to do their work as much as possible.

Why, you could even say I'm raising wild worms!

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