Urban Worm Girls

November 21, 2011 at 10:06 AM Leave a comment

Urban Worm Girls preach what they practice

Owners teach how to do in-house composting

  • Amber Gribben, left, and Stephanie Davies lead a seminar on composting with worms at Urban Worm Girl.
Amber Gribben, left, and Stephanie Davies lead a seminar on composting… (Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune)
November 14, 2011|By Nancy A. Simon, Special to the Tribune

Stephanie Davies and Amber Gribben, who run Urban Worm Girl, are Chicago evangelists of the ecological benefits of worms.

So it was in character for them to ask the following question last month of a group of people at one of their instructional seminars: “Which worms are better for composting: red wigglers or European night crawlers?”

Answer: red wigglers. They come up through the dirt to eat food, making them ideal for in-home composting, Davies said. They also reproduce frequently, which gives them a voracious appetite, she said.

Davies and Gribben have been teaching people in the Chicago area how to use worms to establish in-home composting systems, a practice known as vermiculture, since Urban Worm Girl was founded in 2008. The company sells worms for composting through urbanwormgirl.com and at markets and workshops.

“I appreciate their usefulness and how they are able to transform waste products into beneficial substances,” Davies said.

She founded Urban Worm shortly after she moved to Chicago from California because she saw few waste-recycling efforts in the city. Gribben joined Urban Worm Girl a year later.

“There were no composting programs in Chicago like those in California, where programs are community-subsidized and residents are fined if they have too many bags of garbage for disposal,” Davies said.

Chicago could recycle a big chunk of its trash through composting, Davies said. She pointed to a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that found that more than 8 percent of the waste each person generates each day could be reused in composting. That adds up to about 140 pounds per person per year, Davies said.

Worms are particularly effective composters because they are working all the time to consume food and rid themselves of waste products, which, in turn, enriches the soil around them, Davies and Gribben said.

They showed a group of Chicagoans at a seminar last month in their Lincoln Park store how to use worms to improve the soil and, ultimately, the environment.

The students — or “new worm mommies,” as Davies called them — were provided with, for a fee of $140, a basic starter kit that includes a three-tray worm bin, a 1-pound bag of red wigglers, coconut bedding and an instruction manual. Each student would provide the food scraps to their worms.

“For the most part, the worms eat, poop and reproduce,” Davies said. “Because they are surface-dwellers, and move upward, they will come up to eat the food or waste materials provided.”

Worms like to eat organic waste products such as fruits, vegetables and paper. But they have difficulty consuming meat, corn and foods with high acidity levels, like tomatoes and pineapple.

Demonstrating how to set up the bin, Gribben helped participants stack the trays. She showed how to lay out the bedding of coconut and fabric material.

Gribben then demonstrated how to remove the enriched soil without harming the worms and how to drain excess liquid from the bin.

The Urban Worm Girls also explained how the new worm owners should take care of their red wigglers.

Though they can be left alone for weeks without food, the worms need air, moisture, darkness and moderate temperatures, Davies and Gribben said. Under ideal conditions, the average life span of a red wiggler worm can be four to six years.

In-home composting systems that use worms are relatively odor-free, Davies said.

“They do not attract rodents or insects, do not entice house pets (dogs or cats) and tend not to emit foul odors,” she said. “If you do smell something bad, then that is a sign something is wrong — likely you gave the worms something they do not want to eat.”

Sydney Kenyen and Jennifer Bathgate, both of Chicago, said they attended the seminar because they support recycling.

“We are trying to make recycling a big part of our household. We met Davies at a farmers market, and my daughter kept talking about the Urban Worm Girl and asking when she could have her own worm garden,” Kenyen said.

Bathgate said she decided to use worms for composting mainly because “I have a ton of vegetable waste and the system seems easy enough.”

Entry filed under: Green Information.

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