I’ve never met anyone that got coal in their Christmas stocking. But the idea of giving fossil fuel to naughty boys and girls just rubs me the wrong way. And what’s up with nice boys and girls getting candy and other things that only contribute to obesity, diabetes and all other related diseases. Traditional Christmas stocking stuffing is like a metaphor for some of the biggest environmental and social problems of our time—anthropogenic global warming and a global human population that is increasingly overfed but undernourished.
This year my family and friends got worm bins for Christmas (see Figure 1). Anticipating varying degrees of excitement, I recorded their reactions to the gifts. I thought the recordings would be funny, but the ideas behind the worm bins gifts are hardly laughable. About 40% of food in this country is wasted, with most of that waste happening at the farm, retail and consumer levels. While food waste does cause methane, a potent greenhouse gas, the bigger environmental issue is all of the resources that go in to producing, delivering and preparing food that is wasted. Furthermore, in the face of hunger and malnutrition, the problem of food waste is seen in even starker relief.
Figure 1. Family and friends with their worm bin Christmas gifts.
Worm bins for food waste are tangible, accessible components of the circular economy, antidotes to the traditional stocking stuffers, remedies to the maladies of the linear economy. Worm bins, or vermicomposting, involve the recycling of food waste or other organic matter and can be done in people’s homes. Recycling food waste in the home enables people to take steps toward reduction (e.g. buy less) and reuse (e.g. eat leftovers), antecedents of the 3R Principle’s recycle (e.g. vermicompost).
This gift also involves living things which, if not cared for properly, will die. As such, gifts involving living things shouldn’t be for everyone as they require a certain level of responsibility and interest on the part of the recipient. While giving the gift of worm bins is not quite the same as giving someone, say, a puppy, the gift should not be forced on anyone. With this in mind, I under-prepared the quantity of worm bins for family and friends, but I have committed to preparing more for those that are interested in managing worms and food waste.
There is also an important personal angle to this gift that I should explain. We have been producing vermicompost and vermicompost tea (see figure 2) at our family farm for many years as part of our regenerative organic growing practices. But many of my family and friends, removed from food production, have little understanding of our innovations at the farm. My hope is that the worm bin gifts will enable me to connect with family and friends on a new level of common interest.
Figure 2. Vermicompost tea beds with mini sweet pepper farm-level waste as feed stock.
For support, I created a social media group called Vermicomposters where worm bin enthusiasts can share photos and ideas of what is and isn’t working with their vermicultural practices. It will take time for everyone to learn to live with their worms in kind of the same way that we learn to live with a new dog or cat. Patience and understanding will be required for when the worms are too hot/cold, wet/dry, greater or fewer in numbers, not consuming the kitchen scraps, causing a stink. In this way, the worms are not quite the same as household pets; they’re more like livestock, household micro-livestock. Here’s that compilation of recordings I mentioned earlier of my family and friends becoming worm wranglers. Join us.