By Roy Green
Photo by Steve Somerville
Even before she developed an abiding passion for red wigglers, Cathy
Nesbitt was a bit of a composting evangelist, toting an ice-cream bucket
back and forth to work on the GO train to Toronto every day where co-workers
would fill it up with leftover lunch items for her back yard composter.
"I've been recycling and composting forever," said Ms Nesbitt in her
cosy Bradford home. "I've always been an avid gardener and I was determined
to turn the compost into humus for my garden."
Then she learned about eisenia fetida- red wigglers - a spectacularly
industrious worm that earnestly chows down its own weight in organic
material, such as leaves, paper, straw, vegetables and fruit peels,
and produces an equal amount of end product called castings; a rich,
black soil that is simply the richest natural fertilizer known to humankind.
The process is called vermiculture or vermicomposting.
"We could break our perceived dependency on chemical fertilizers if
we relied on worms. They're a gardeners dream," said Ms Nesbitt.
More to the point, vermicomposting could be a significant method of
waste reduction if enough of us welcomed eisenia fetida into our homes.
She believes our organic waste can be better managed in worm bins than
in green bins or, worse, in Michigan landfills.
"One pound of worms will eat through one tonne of organic waste in
a year and that's pretty much the same amount the average Canadian home
generates every year. The process is like magic - all those banana peels
are converted to castings; rich, black humus."
It's clean, odourless, quiet and the worms, fixated on your waste,
are too busy to even think about escaping and swarming all over your
After years of night school classes toward a career in social work,
she made an abrupt career change.
"I got my psych degree in 2000 but, two years later, I became a worm
farmer," she said.
But first she had to overcome an inherent revulsion to worms.
"I did a lot of research ... and the more I learned, the less I began
to dread working with worms. Did you know worms have five hearts? You
have to love them for that."
She and husband Rick, a web page designer who now spends more time
on ,the worm business than the web business, put a batch of red wigglers
to work in a bin under the kitchen sink and they've never looked back.
Cathy's Crawly Composters supplies ready-made home vermicomposting
kits - a plastic bin, manual, shredded paper and red wigglers.
Ms Nesbitt also has a larger operation going in a heated barn near
Beeton and supplies kits across Ontario.
'I have about 1,200 customers. Of course, it's a one off; there's no
repeat business. If you treat the worms right, you never have to replace
them. Money is not the prime motive for Cathy's Crawly Composters."
The doorbell rings and customer 1,201, a couple from Arthur, arrive
to pick up a box of worms and the Nesbitts' best wishes for a successful
Another tonne of waste diverted from landfills, Ms Nesbitt hopes. "I
consider it my mission in life."
With the worms doing much of the work, most of her time is spent at
seminars, flea markets, ecology fairs and schools, preaching the gospel
of waste reduction via vermiculture.
"I've got a very upbeat 'presentation that I can proudly say I've given
to more than 9,000 students over the years. Kids so get the whole concept
and let's face it, they're going to be leading the way in proper waste
Educating people is what she feels she was put here to do.
"My mission now is to educate people about ways to grow healthy soil,
to make them more aware about soil depletion, waste management and the
role vermiculture can play - increasing the squirm, I like to call it.
"I like it when the kids see me as the spokesperson for the worm. I'm
just wacky enough to do that and love it "
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