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Worms do their part for recycling

Piles of potato peelings, pasta and pastries pile up unnecessarily in landfills and sewage treatment plants – putrefying.

Nevada County, not counting its cities, sent 8,890 tons of food waste to the dump in 2002, said county Recycling Coordinator Tracey Harper.

Slashing the amount of trash sent to landfills isn’t just for earth lovers – it’s mandated by state law, and if Nevada County’s waste isn’t reduced, the county can expect fines up to $10,000 a day, Harper said.



While Harper isn’t quite willing to eat your leftovers, she knows of something that will – red worms.

These squirmers will dine on kitchen scraps, grass clippings and old newspapers with delight, local worm composters testify. And worms won’t only get rid of it – they’ll convert it into a coveted fertilizer called “castings.”




Nevada County master gardener and composter Linda Roemisch uses worm castings in her garden. Castings provide nutrients “a little at a time all the time” in a form that is favored by plants, Roemisch said. And, if you use your own worms, the castings are free.

Todd Spratt and Teresa Allen are strong supporters of vermiculture – the art of composting with worms. They’ve operated the worm-producing Blue Belly Farm since 1997. And after working with Harper to establish a worm composting program at the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility – Nevada County’s jail – they know first-hand red worms’ ability to cut waste.

The facility once sent huge 150-pound bins of food waste to the dump – now the food largely is eaten by worms, Harper said.

Harper has also worked with Camp Augusta, Camp Del Oro and Mount Saint Mary’s first-grade class to establish worm bins to help slash food waste. Several area restaurants, including Ike’s Quarter Cafe, Earth Song Cafe and Market and the New Moon Cafe, also compost or recycle their food waste.

On a recent morning, Spratt crouched beside one of the 16 heaping rows of black earth that line a terrace on his hilltop farm.

“Listen,” he said.

The mound seethed, emitting gentle pops, sounds of soft suction.

The rows are full of hard-working worms, busy gobbling up manure and other feed. Spratt estimated he has about 700,000 of the 3.5-inch, red-tinged crawlers.

Spratt sells his worms to locals who compost and sells his castings to gardeners. Longtime vermiculturist Vicki Sherwood expresses a passion common among verimiculturists – many of whom find their worms fun.

“This is one of the things I truly believe in,” Sherwood said, emphasizing the importance of reducing waste and living efficiently.

Not that she likes to slave away for her worms.

“I’m a lazy person. I don’t like to do a lot of work; my worms basically take care of themselves,” Sherwood said.

Harper doesn’t need Nevada County residents to fall in love with vermiculture – she just needs them to cut down on the amount of food they throw away.

“If people can recycle their stuff at home, that’s the best kind of management,” Harper said.


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