Cathy Nesbitt, of Bradford, Ont., is Canada’s queen of
the crawlers. Through her vermicomposting business, Cathy’s
Crawly Composters, she sells red wigglers to homeowners for composting,
works the birthday-party circuit and speaks of wormy virtues to
schools and garden societies.
Maria Rodriguez, of Guatamala City, runs an 8,600-square-foot
worm farm through her organization, Byoearth, where she breeds
worms and produces fertilizer to sell to non-proft organizations
for subsistence farmers.
When the two worm experts found each other on Twitter last October,
they were mutually impressed with each other’s work: Nesbitt’s
goal is to open a worm production and education centre in Ontario;
Rodriguez wants to introduce vermicomposting to the slums of Guatamala
so the residents can grow food in the nitrogen-rich soil produced
by worms from organic waste.
When Rodriguez appealed to Nesbitt to come to Guatemala and help
her market her ideas, Nesbitt couldn’t say no. She is currently
seeking sponsors to make the trip possible.
“I’m hoping to have a really great exchange of information,”
Nesbitt says of her two-week trip next month. “We’re
both really excited about how worms are going to save the world.”
Nesbitt will brainstorm with Rodriguez and share what works here,
and the pair will hold workshops to help expand vermiculture throughout
the Central American country. Rodriguez also hopes to gain from
Nesbitt’s experience with social media, production processes,
packaging, marketing and composting techniques.
The enthusiasm of both women is palpable over the phone line,
on their websites and on Byoearth’s Facebook page.
Rodriguez, 25, first saw exciting possibilities in vermiculture
— the science of producing worms and their by-products —
five years ago, when she was working toward her Masters degree
in Sustainable Rural Development.
She started with a small box of worms, marvelling at how they
transformed organic waste into nitrogen-rich castings.
They’re amazing creatures. For starters, red wrigglers
are hermaphrodites with five hearts. They never sleep. They eat
half their weight every day, consuming organic waste from fruits,
vegetables, paper scraps, coffee grinds, bread, rice and pasta,
turning it into rich topsoil.
“I thought it was a perfect business opportunity,”
Rodriguez says in a telephone interview from Guatemala City, home
to one of the largest and most toxic dumps in Central America:
a 16-hectare open pit in the middle of the city. It is surrounded
by a slum that thousands of squatters call home.
Her catch phrase? Her red wringlers “turn waste into wealth.”
In 2007, she won $10,000 U.S. in a business competition, sponsored
by USAID (United States Agency for International Development),
which gave her the money to buy half a million worms and start
She has since set up the worm-breeding facility, created byoearth.com
and helped 45 women who live on the perimeter of the Guatemala
City landfill start vermicomposting microbusinesses. She also
produces four worm-related products that she sells through her
The worm-breeding facility produced 227,000 kilograms of fertilizer
last year, which was sold to relief organizations working with
subsistence farmers to fight soil degradation. Byoearth also supplies
fertilizer and worms to isolated rural communities.
Word of Nesbitt’s visit to Guatemala reached Anne Lossing,
coordinator of a project called Ixcanaan (Guardian of the Rainforest)
in the isolated village of Peten (near the Mayan ruins), who helps
the people of the remote jungle area become self-sufficient. The
soil is so degraded they can’t grow fruit and vegetables.
She has recently started using red wigglers to produce fertile
topsoil. Nesbitt and Rodriguez will spend two days in Peten and
hold a workshop.
“There is hope and opportunity with the worms and we believe
that if we promote it properly. . . that it will have a very big
social and environmental impact,” Rodriguez says.
And Nesbitt is important to realizing that goal.
Over the past 10 years, through Cathy’s Crawly Composters,
cathyscomposters.com, Nesbitt has sold more than 5,000 pounds
of worms and more than 2,000 worm-bin composters. She has shared
the red wiggler magic with more than 50,000 students at 300 Southern
Ontario schools, in seniors’ homes, at worm-themed birthday
parties and more than 100 horticultural societies. (Another noteworthy
achievement: She won the second annual Great Canadian Worm Charming
Championship at the Shelburne Lions Club last year.)
Over the past two years, she has diverted more than 500 garbage
bags of shredded paper and some 7,000 used milk and juice cartons
from blue boxes and used them for worm composting and packaging
— and thus diverted tons of organic waste from the landfill.
She’s an inspired marketer, and will share her know-how
Nesbitt has yet to achieve her dream of a worm production and
education centre. She envisions a facility staffed by people at
a socioeconomic disadvantage, a large community garden, with a
solid revenue stream from the sale of fertilizer and a continuous
stream of visitors of all ages.
But like many visionaries, she is stymied by government policies
and the meagre imaginations of some she encounters.
“People seem to be afraid of something new, even though
it’s necessary and not new,” she says, pointing out
that in the 1980s the City of Toronto provided residents with
worm kits for their homes.
“The worms have been waiting for millions of years to help
solve our problem and the time has come. They are patient creatures.”
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