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Cathy's Crawly Composters - Vermicomposting

Cathy's Crawly Composters

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Vaughan Weekly

January 10, 2007


Vaughan Weekly - Green Reel Film Festival
Cathy Nesbitt examines her pets at the Green Reel Film Festival at The City Playhouse this past Thursday. She was among many exhibitors and vendors speaking to interested crowds on the importance of environmental stewardship.

The Way of the Worm

Photos and Story by Paul Leavoy

When Cathy Nesbitt attends environment-themed events, such as the Green Reel festival held at The City Playhouse last week, she encounters an all-too-common scenario.

A mother, for the sake of example, will approach her table with a child or two in tow, and inquire, "now, what are you doing here?"

"Worm composting," Cathy will reply, politely and enthusiastically.

Then, wide-eyed, the mother takes a step back, restraining the children as if they were on the verge of attack.

"Worms?"

Cathy shoots back a question to neutralize any unfounded fears: "Did you know red wigglers eat half their body weight every day?"

Suddenly, the family is captivated and it's only a matter of time before the dedicated composter, avid gardener and ardent environmentalist has a new audience under her thumb.

Although she feels the fear of worms is off-base, Cathy has sympathy for those who reel at the sight or thought of those slimy, crawling creatures. After all, she used to be afraid of them herself.

"Until about five years ago, I was terrified of worms. I wanted nothing to do with them," she says.

That all changed when she reluctantly agreed to watch and maintain a friend's worm compost while she was on vacation. In that time, Cathy watched the worms, fed the worms, handled the worms and, well, she grew to kinda like them. Gradually, her feelings about the nature of worms and their role on earth began to shift significantly, to say the least.

"I believe this is my mission. I believe this is why I've been put on earth," Cathy states emphatically. 'The worms keep coming back to me."

So, what is her mission?

Well, about the same time Nesbitt overcame her fear of the slimy creatures, she began Cathy's Crawly Composters, a business dedicated to the sale of worms and worm composters, and to spreading awareness about worms and the enormous role they can play in the garbage solution.

In addition to making speaking tours at schools and environment events, Nesbitt sells red wiggler worms and helps interested individuals and businesses integrate vermicomposting (composting with worms) into their routine.

The process is simple. Bins, roughly the size of blue boxes, with replaceable covers are used to store a mix of soil, a carbon source (paper, for example) and, of course, worms - red wigglers, specifically, thanks to their voracious appetite. From there, a user will add organic and paper waste on a regular basis - say, three times a week - and reap the benefits. In particular, a significant increase in the waste one personally diverts from landfill and black castings, a rich, natural fertilizer, are among the positive byproducts of the process.

Cathy Nesbitt of Cathys Crawly Composters is on a mission.
Cathy Nesbitt of Cathys Crawly Composters is on a mission to change common perceptions of warms and the role they can play in the garbage crisis.

When Nesbitt delivers a seminar on the virtues of vermicomposting, she invariably encounters the same questions: Will the worms escape the bins? What will happen if they get out?

"People are always afraid the worms will leave the bins and terrorize their homes," Nesbitt says laughing, "but nothing could be farther from the truth."

She points out that although the worms are free to leave the bins through a variety of holes, there is no reason for the hungry, photosensitive creatures to "leave paradise."

"In these environments, the worms have food, moisture, and almost a complete lack of light. They hate light," Nesbitt explains. "So why would they leave?"

She makes one proviso: the worms may try to escape the bins if the acidity levels are not monitored and regulated, but this is as simple as adding a few crushed egg shells or a little lime each week.

Otherwise, sequestered in the bins, the worms don't figure much into the daily lives of their hosts, save that they signal a -significant reduction in one's waste output.

As Nesbitt is quick to repeatedly mention, the red wigglers eat half their own body weight in a day.

"In fact," she adds, "a pound of Worms and their descendants could transform a ton of waste a year. Prior to hearing this, I knew the average Canadian family produced a ton of organic waste in a year. Then, it clicked: I said, 'Wow. So every Canadian family needs a pound of Worms in their home.'"

"I discovered, it's fear of death. That's why people are afraid of worms. I think this is totally on a subconscious level, but I believe everybody knows that worms, like it or not, will get you in the end."

When asked about how worm composting differs from household organics collection programs, Nesbitt smiles and coyly states, "Don't make me talk bad about the green bin."

It's not as if she thinks green bin programs, such as the Greening Vaughan program launched last fall, are without potential merits, especially for apartments, condos or multiresidential dwellings which green bin programs don't currently accommodate ( and won't "anytime soon" according to Nesbitt).

Rather, she feels green bin programs are providing yet another solution for single dwelling residences.

"If you have a back yard, you have the opportunity to compost already," she says, adding that everyone has to take more responsibility for their own waste.

Since the castings the worms produce are a valuable fertilizer, Nesbitt can't understand why government hasn't sought to capitalize on this valuable resource.

When she speaks to classes, she compares the product to oil to illustrate her point.

"It's as if Middle East countries said to the world, 'Look, we've got this black goo we've got to get rid of,'" she explains. "And then they pay big to get rid of it, instead of getting- paid by people who take it! That's what we're doing by shipping it to Michigan. We're throwing away a resource."

Cathy makes no bones about emphasizing the role worms can play in the garbage crisis.

"I believe the solution to our garbage crisis was provided long before the garbage crisis was invented," she says confidently. "The worms have been around since the dinosaur. They're survivors. But they haven't taken over yet - they just keep their own environment in check."

But she has had natural obstacles in her mission to turn Canadians on to the way of the worm. In particular, the fear of the worm is something which continues to plague her. Early on in her endeavor, she tried to answer the question, "How am I going to create a business if people are afraid of my product?"

To solve this problem, she went to the children. In about five years, Nesbitt has spoken to more than 7,000 school children on the merits of vermicomposting.

"They so get it," she says. "The kids understand." She's even arranged some in-school projects where the kids themselves develop presentations on worm composting.

Although the fear barrier continues to arise in her mission, Nesbitt, who also has a psychology degree and some work experience in the field, is convinced she has gotten to the bottom of the fear.

"One day, I found the answer," she states. "I discovered, it's fear of death. That's why people are afraid of worms. I think this is totally on a subconscious level, but I believe everybody knows that worms, like it or not, will get you in the end."

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Cathy's Crawly Composters

Bradford, Ontario
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