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The Messy Reality of Going Green in the Kitchen

I have worms. Not the been-caught-eating-cheap-sushi variety but a (literal) ball of 500 red wigglers that were shipped to my apartment last week from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm, a wholesome-sounding endeavor where I envision bins of hundreds of worms consuming banana peels with fervor. These worms, provided they are not the victims of inadvertent vermicide, are crucial in my effort to go green with an in-apartment vermicomposting system.  

After interviewing and writing about Boca Raton's Michael Young and his Wormdorf Astoria vermicomposting system (read about it here), it seemed only fair that I put my money -- and the space under my kitchen sink -- where my preachy mouth is. I can't very well opine about issues of sustainability if I'm not there in the trenches, saving my food scraps in carefully labeled containers and tenderly sifting through piles of worms to gather their nutrient-rich crap. So I met with Young at the Ellenville Garden Center's Moonlit Farmers' Market (he's there most Thursday evenings) and bought my bucket. Once home, 

the bucket was put into a corner in my apartment, just waiting to be moved into the closet that houses the tennis rackets that were purchased months ago but remain in their cellophane wrappers. It eventually did get wedged in the "forget me" closet but was retrieved after a text message from Young: "Just checking to see if you made your worm purchase yet?" 

It was the nudge I needed. Establishing the system -- or colony, if you will -- sounded like a lot of work. It's really not, but it sounded like it, hence the procrastination. If it's this difficult for someone who's excited about reducing food waste and going green to stop being lazy about it, it's easy to see why Young talks of the challenge associated with addressing people's deeply embedded habits in the area. 

I ordered the worms on Monday, and they arrived Thursday, though I missed delivery and had to pick them up from the post office on Friday, giving me just enough time to realize in a panic that I hadn't properly readied their habitat. Late Friday morning was a scramble as I followed Young's detailed instructions on prepping the system; lots of shredding and soaking newspaper, layering damp paper and food scraps, and finding a handful of dirt to toss in the mix to aid in the worms' digestion. There's irony in a journalism grad and newspaper writer turning the local daily into literal worm food, but at least it didn't go into the bottom of a bird cage.

Once I was home with the shipment, I tore into the box, but paused at the sight of the bag of worms. The white sack wasn't wiggling in the way I had envisioned, but it definitely seemed... alive. It was heavier than it looked and was warm in my hand as I carefully untied the opening. I had prepared myself for a clump of writhing worms, but this was much less unsettling: a satchel of peat with a few worms gripping to the side, the rest hidden down in the soil. I turned the bag upside down in the bucket and introduced the wigglers to their new home. Painless for all involved.

The hope is that the worms will multiply rapidly and consume select food scraps -- fruit peels, vegetables, coffee grounds; no oils, onions, meat, or dairy and minimal spicy foods -- at a rate as such that my apartment's weekly garbage output will decrease by at least a few pounds, if not more. In just two days of saving (and freezing) the appropriate food waste, I've collected about a pound that otherwise would've gone to the landfill. It's a small step but likely more meaningful than the vanity "green" kitchen cleaning products that I purchase to make myself feel better, but are likely doing little to save the environment in any meaningful way.

At the same time, the worms will keep crapping away and producing the kind of (mostly) odor-free, nutrient-rich fertilizer that can be used to enrich my plot at the Boca Raton Community Garden in the effort to produce something slightly more glamourous than basil in the 2012-13 season.  

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Tricia Woolfenden

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