By Canadian Wildlife Staff, Photo by Mike Ford
Cathy Nesbitt’s journey to becoming an advocate for worm composting was a long one. But once she dug in, there was no turning back.
Cathy Nesbitt of Bradford, Ont., put aside a long-standing fear of worms in 2002 and opened Cathy’s Crawly Composters, a business to support vermiculture. Worms are superb at turning organic waste into high-quality compost — “black gold,” as Nesbitt calls it. And there’s no one like her when it comes to promoting its value.
What is Cathy’s Crawly Composters as a business?
We’re an environmental education business. We sell everything for vermicomposting, but what I discovered early on was that people didn’t really know about it. Or they had preconceptions about having worms in the house — worms escaping, attracting fruit flies, that kind of stuff. People don’t always know you can avoid those issues if you manage your composter well. So, I started doing education workshops. That’s become a big part of the business — more than 75,000 students to date. I also do lunch-and-learns. I go into businesses and talk about how they can become more sustainable. I also do school workshops and horticultural events. Of course, we also sell worms, worm composters, books and other resources.
Who are your clients?
Originally, my goal was to service the condo market. Vermicomposting is a way to manage organic scraps in their apartment. As it turned out, I also have a lot of clients who live in houses.
How did you become interested in vermicomposting?
Actually, I used to be afraid of worms. About 25 years ago — 10 years before I started the business — I looked after a teacher’s worm bin for a summer. As an avid gardener and composter, I knew the value of worm compost, but I didn’t want to have worms in my house. It wasn’t a great experience for me.
A few years later, I graduated from university and I got a job at a group home, which was on a farm. I set them up with a composting program. At the same time, I started researching worm composting again and I realized the magic of it. Worms eat about half their weight every day; they turn garbage into black gold. I had a shift in my thinking. I started to love worms and understand why we need them.
When did the business start?
That was in 2002. There was an ad in the local paper that said, “Are you a woman with a business idea?” It was for a course to write a business plan. So, I said to my husband, “I’m quitting my job. I’m taking this course. And I’m starting a worm business.”
What do people who don’t have large yards and gardens do with the compost their worms create?
Worms actually reduce the volume of waste by up to 80 per cent. You don’t need a lot for your garden, but it makes a great gift for your gardening friends. You can add compost anywhere, and it’s not going to do any harm. It adds much-needed micro-organisms into the soil. We’re feeding the soil. Compost is applied on a regular basis. It’s not like chemical fertilizer. Compost is living soil. If you have too much, you can sell the extra on Kijiji.
How much of an impact can composting have on reducing waste?
The impact is massive. Forty per cent of the food that is produced ends up as waste. All of our food waste can be composted. You leave out meat and dairy with a worm bin, but there is a lot we can do. While doing research for my business I heard that a half-kilogram of worms and their descendants can transform a tonne of organic waste into compost each year. That’s about equal to the amount of organic waste produced annually by an average Canadian family. What’s next for Cathy’s Crawly Composters? We’re going to step up our efforts to raise awareness through our school workshops and our education outreach. I think this is important work. When we garden, we are really soil farmers. Look after the soil, and the soil takes care of the plants.