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For the Worms: Vermiculture in Brooklyn
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Jennifer Bogo has covered sustainability as an editor at Popular Mechanics, Audubon and E/The Environmental Magazine. Her work also recently appeared in the anthology Farming and the Fate of Wild Nature.

Sitting in the “wildlife corner� of my Brooklyn apartment, next to a ceramic mallard lamp and a cat scratching post, is a blue Tupperware container perforated with air vents. It holds, I’m convinced, the key World Changing concept for 2007: a pound of worms.

These thousand or so red wigglers are easily the most industrious members of a household that includes me (the science editor at Popular Mechanics), my roommate (who slows down to read email), and a cat that’s clearly bent on driving toy mice to extinction. Nestled deep in a bed of shredded newspaper, the worms chomp their way through a half-pound of food each day.

It’s impressive, really: eggshells, tea bags and fruit and vegetable scraps in, nutrient-rich, earthy black compost out. Instead of contributing to New York City’s colossal waste stream, that mealy apple and last night’s kale stems will in three months be coaxing heirloom tomatoes from buckets on our fire escape—the remnants of which will eventually be fed back to the worms.

In Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan observes that: “…in nature, there is no such thing as a waste problem, since one creature’s waste becomes another creature’s lunch.� My worm bin, like the polyculture farm Pollan visited for the book, mimics those natural relationships to create a closed cycle—a loop of endless energy rather than a line leading to a pile of onion peels.

The same principle can be applied to all kinds of systems, from agriculture and manufacturing to transportation and cities (especially appropriate for 2007, when humans officially become an urban species). And it will have to be. The new year brings unprecedented challenges, and it demands solutions that are elegant, and extraordinary in scope.

As William McDonough told GreenBuild attendees this fall, mere efficiency won’t be enough. It may stretch our supply of fossil fuels, but it won’t stave off global warming. To do that, we need a new design—one that allows materials to cycle indefinitely, one that imitates a biological, rather than industrial, system. We need, in other words, an old design. We need to take our cue from worms.


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Vermiculture is excellent stuff! There are a couple of how-to articles at for anyone who's interested. And if you've got practical knowledge, you can always add your wisdom as well.

Posted by: Curt Beckmann on 3 Jan 07

Even in Manhattan, red wigglers thrive - check it out on the Composting Green Map of Manhattan, published in December by Green Map System with Lower East Side Ecology Center. Free printed copies at LESEC's Union Sq Greenmarket stand - drop off your kitchen scraps there too, every M, W F & Sat.

Posted by: Wendy Brawer on 3 Jan 07

In other words, We need industrial ecology & industrial symbiosis

Posted by: Ray Huang on 3 Jan 07

what a lovely einsenia fetida pictured here. sent over by a reader of my blog who knows that i really loved kitchen composting in manhattan. knit red wiggler interpretations for an installation at Queens Botanical (see Cityworm dot com)...
six years of earth-saving pleasure--and till the fruit flies did us in.

good luck in brooklyn! yours, naomi

Posted by: naomi dagen bloom on 3 Jan 07

Go red worms, go. Working with nature and not against it is such good thing. It seems to be a "win" "win" for everyone.

Posted by: Carolyn Bogo on 19 Jan 07



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