January 2011

The Worm Farming Alliance


NOTE: This post was originally written in January of 2011. Since I will continue to refer people to it (so they can learn more about the WFA) I’ll also be providing progress reports etc in the form of “updates” at the bottom.


The Worm Farming Alliance

Hi everyone – sorry for the lull in posts as of late. Hopefully this post will help to explain why I’ve been a wee bit preoccupied these last few weeks.

As you can probably guess (assuming you don’t already know), I’ve been working on a new website/membership called the “Worm Farming Alliance” (WFA). The main goal behind this new project is the creation of a top-notch information/opportunity resource for those people who are interested in entrepreneurial vermicomposting (and related fields). I know that a LOT of people are only interested in pursuing vermicomposting as a fun hobby (likely most of the RWC community, in fact), and that’s great – but there are certainly others who are keen to learn how they might go about starting up their own “worm business”, or further develop a business they’ve already established. This is a big part of why I wanted to put together a completely separate website.

I’ve been an entrepreneur at heart for most of my life – and have started up various small businesses over the years – but interestingly enough, I’ve steered well clear of any sort of vermicomposting business for most of the 11 years I’ve been a passionate “worm-head”. Why? Because I assumed it was the type of venture that required a lot of “land” (i.e. a country property), lots of expensive equipment, and LOT of pavement-pounding-go-get-em zeal – none of which I had, or could afford!

In spring of 2008 I finally decided to suspend my doubts/fears, and I started dabbling with my own small vermicomposting businesses (one that was mostly online, and another one firmly planted in the “real world”). While it certainly hasn’t all been a bed of roses (especially with the “real world” biz), I’m SO glad I ended up taking the plunge. It’s been a lot of fun, and has also provided me with an important source of revenue (helping me on my quest to stay free from “the man”! haha).

Initially, I assumed my worm businesses (primarily the “real world” one) would gradually take up more and more of my time, and end up as my primary “career” focus. What’s actually happened, though, is that I’ve been continually drawn back to my (mostly unpaid) work here at Red Worm Composting. Finally, it dawned on me that my “ultimate” vermicomposting business is NOT the creation of a large-scale, thriving “real world” enterprise, but rather a primarily-online business focused on educating/inspiring others. I won’t say that taking this road has been easy (it’s actually turned out to be a rather scary balancing act), BUT, as Robert Frost might say, it has indeed “made all the difference”!

OK – let’s talk some more about the Worm Farming Alliance!

There are five KEY areas the WFA will focus on: 1) Mentorship, 2) Education,
3) Collaboration, 4) Community, and 5) Advancement (that’s right, I’m hoping this will grow into something of a “MECCA” for entrepreneurial vermicomposters – haha).


MENTORSHIP – One of the best ways to become successful in any field is to find people who are doing what you want to do (and doing it WELL) and to learn from them! When I was just getting started with my own “real world” business I certainly could have used a LOT of help, but alas, I basically just had to figure things out for myself (character building for sure – but probably a LOT more frustrating than it needed to be).

Apart from providing a fair amount of mentoring myself, a lot of the more experienced WFA members will undoubtedly be assisting those who are just starting out.

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EDUCATION – Starting up this type of business requires two different (but equally important) forms of education. For starters, we need to educate OURSELVES – about vermicomposting (etc) and of course about setting up and operating a successful business enterprise. Secondly, this type of business tends to require that we spend a fair amount of time educating OTHERS as well. My aim is to not only provide members with top notch educational resources (such as the “Modern Worm Farming Video Course”), but also to help members educate others (via presentations, websites etc). Obviously members will be educating each other as well.

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COLLABORATION – One of the major points I try to hammer home in my “Modern Worm Farming” training is the importance of zoning in on our strengths/weaknesses/experience/passions when designing our “ultimate” business. A lot of entrepreneurs seem to take great pride in “wearing a lot of hats”, but the fact of the matter is that we are living in a world of increasing specialization. If you try to do EVERYTHING yourself, you’ll likely end up completely burned out and disheartended (been there, done that – bought the T-Shirt). There are ALWAYS going to be others out there doing some of what you are attempting to do, but with FAR more skill and passion!

I’ve accepted the fact that I won’t likely ever have the passion/skills to become a successful wholesale worm grower/seller – but that’s ok, because I know I can team up with others who ARE, and we can both benefit as a result (I’m big on educating/sharing/inspiring, so naturally I’m better suited for the promotional side of the equation)!
I am really looking forward to seeing what sort of strategic partnerships can arise as a result of the interactions among WFA members!

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COMMUNITY – One of the strange things about the vermicomposting industry is that there has never really been a successful group for professionals. Excellent forums like Vermicomposters and Worm Digest certainly indicate that the hobbyists have their acts together in this department, but for whatever reason it’s never really happened for the “pros”. That’s not to say that there hasn’t ever been a strong sense of “community” among those in the industry. During the mid to late 90’s there was actually a LOT of progress in this department – thanks in large part to the efforts of individuals like Mary Appelhof (who sadly passed away in 2005), Peter Bogdanov (who has basically moved on to other things) and Rhonda Sherman (who, thankfully, is still working hard to unite the community via her annual NCSU Worm Farming Conference). Strangely, much of that momentum seemed to subside in the years after Y2K (it’s a conspiracy, I tell ya!! haha).

There is significant strength in numbers, and a STRONG community of professionals can lead to…

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ADVANCEMENT – We (entrepreneurial types) all want to create a successful, deeply satisfying business enterprise, right? Well, we should ALSO be focusing on the big picture! Vermicomposting is still a relatively obscure (by mainstream standards) field of interest. Recruiting a LOT more new vermicomposters will not only be good news for the planet, but it will obviously be good for our “bottom-line” as well.


OK, so what’s the dealio, Bentley?!?!


(NOTE: Again – this was originally written quite some time ago. please be sure to also read the “UPDATE” section at the bottom of this post)

The Worm Farming Alliance will be officially launching shortly after I complete the Modern Worm Farming Video Course. It will be a monthly-subscription-based membership, likely starting at about $7-$10/mo (plus $47 as a one time payment for the course, which can be accessed regardless of whether or not you remain a member of the WFA). The membership itself is basically “ready” (although more content etc will certainly be added between now and the launch), so I’m really keen to kickstart the WFA community.

As such, I’ve come up with what I like to think is a pretty good deal for “Early Birds”. In a nutshell, I am offering life-time membership to the WFA (and all future resources added to it) for a one-time payment equivalent to the cost of the course itself – $47.
The trade-off, of course, is that you simply need to be a bit more patient than those who sign up after the launch.


Questions & Answers


1) Is the WFA an “official” vermicomposting (“worm growers” etc) association (i.e some sort of governing body)?


Absolutely NOT – while I certainly has some idealistic “big picture” plans (as touched on earlier), this might be more appropriately considered a sort of “private club”. That being said – it is also important to mention that the front half of the website (WFA blog, resources pages etc) will be completely accessible to the public. I’m not trying to create some sort of snobby, elitist group here (quite the opposite in fact) – nor am I hoarding information and only allowing those who pay to benefit. I’m pretty sure that my work here at Red Worm Composting provides enough evidence of the fact that I’m not that type of person.


2) Why does it cost money at all?


A LOT of time/energy/capital has gone into this project (and plenty more over time). It is also intended for those who are focused on and serious about various aspects of entrepreneurial vermicomposting (and/or similar fields), so creating a “barrier for entry” helps to ensure that we end up with people who REALLY want to be there, and who will make more of an effort to benefit from the resource.


3) What if I’m a total newbie and/or a hobbyist? Is this the right group for me?


If your goal is simply to have fun vermicomposting, to grow big plants etc, you will likely be better off sticking with public sites like Red Worm Composting and Vermicomposters. If on the other hand you have an interest in potentially starting up some sort of eco-business venture (or if you already have one), you want to learn how to build/promote websites, or you just generally have a keen interest to learn more about all of this, then you may want to take advantage of the lifetime-access opportunity. Bottom-line, I am certainly not trying to exclude anyone, BUT, this is definitely not just a general (hobby) vermicomposting membership.


4) What’s the difference between WFA and “Worm Farming Secrets” (WFS)?


I was hired in Spring of 2007 to write newsletters and a manual for WFS. I continued with the newsletter writing until early 2009 – SO, I am pretty familiar with that project (am in NO way associated with it now though). Although they got started with a membership site (still not sure why that was discontinued), all it is now is the newsletter list and the manual (which likely has not been updated or added to since it was released early in 2008).

Not to belittle that resource (especially since I put a lot of heart and soul into my work there), but the WFA will be absolutely nothing like it – other than the fact that “worm business” will be a prominent topic I guess. The Modern Worm Farming Video Course alone will be an incredibly valuable resource, and it’s just one part of the WFA.


5) What’s the difference between the WFA and the “Inner Circle”?


This project has gone through many different stages. I actually came up with the name (and purchased the domain name) back in 2007. I knew for sure that it was something I eventually wanted to put together, but at that time I still hadn’t even started up my own worm business. In the fall of 2009 I once again started thinking about the project, and ended up doing a small launch for those people who wanted to learn more about all this “Modern Worm Farming” (I didn’t actually have a name for it then) stuff that’s gradually been coming together in my noggin. My goal was to work closely with this group (they would almost be like a “beta testing group”) before launching the actual guide and Worm Farming Alliance membership in the spring of 2010. Well, long-story-short, things didn’t end up working out as planned (many different factors coming into play) and, while I DID provide the group with many e-mail lessons, a community forum etc, the actual course and WFA membership didn’t come to fruition.

The good news is that the IC group is being merged with the WFA (and many of them are already “inside”), and things are rolling along MUCH better this time around in general!
8)


6) How does “Worm Farming Alliance” tie in with “Modern Worm Farming”?


The two are closely tied together – and in fact, as mentioned, the MWF course will be found (once complete) inside the WFA. I think the main two parts (basically the course and the community forum) will serve to balance eachother out quite nicely. The course itself is based mostly on MY experiences and areas of interest/strength – so it won’t necessarily cover every “worm farming” topic that people might be expecting to see. The WFA community, on the other hand, will contain an incredibly diverse group of people, coming from a variety of backgrounds, and bringing something different to the table – so I think people will be able to get a very well-rounded education as a result!


7) Now that you’ve got your big-shot WFA to keep you busy, are you just going to abandon Red Worm Composting?


Not in a million years – quite the opposite in fact! Like I said earlier, this new direction I’ve been heading in has resulted in me trying to find a balance (between the overall “mission” – which includes a LOT more work on RWC – and revenue-generating work).

As the pieces of the puzzle continue to fall into place (various planned projects being launched etc), I know it’s going to be a lot easier to mellow out and get back into the really FUN stuff again (not to say there won’t be plenty of RWC posts added between now and then)!

SO…with ALL that being said, I guess there’s just one last question…

Who’s coming with me, man?! Who’s coming with me??
πŸ˜†


UPDATE (Fall 2011): This year has turned out to be something of a slow ‘n’ steady “development year” for the Worm Farming Alliance. Getting this project off the ground has proven to be a substantial undertaking (can’t say I’m too surprised though). The KEY is that progress is being made, and all things considered I’m pretty pleased with the way things have been coming together (especially given the fact that this group started as an idle daydream in my head a few short years ago). We currently have more than 130 members and the forum (which was pretty quiet over the summer) has over 1100 posts – many of them demonstrating the fact that my idealistic notions about people sharing openly with one another were not all that far-fetched after all!

Since we’re still not QUITE where I want us to be for an “official” launch, I decided to put together a fall promotion – offering one final chance for people to secure “life-time access” memberships for the “Early Bird” price. You can learn more here:
WFA Fall Promotion

I have also put together a new mini-series for those wanting to get a taste for the sort of content that will be shared within the WFA:
7 Fun Ways to Make Money With Worms

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Serious E-mail Issues – Sorry Folks!

Hi Everyone,
I just discovered today that a LOT of emails have been missing my inbox – not sure for how long!
I was wondering why things were so quiet!
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For whatever reason it doesn’t seem to have affected interactions with people I regularly communicate with – mostly those who are emailing for the first time!

Anyway – I am going to switch my contact form, and will start monitoring the inbox in my hosting account (which normally just get’s forwarded to my gmail).
If I haven’t responded to an email you have sent in, please accept my apologies – I make every effort to answer the emails that get sent in (well, the respectful ones inquiring about vermicomposting anyway! haha).
Hopefully I can get things working properly again soon!
8)

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Unreasonable Institute 2011 | Maria Rodriguez

I’m sure many of you will remember our interview with Maria Rodriguez (Byoearth) back in October. Well, I just received word that she is a finalist in yet another entrepreneurship competition (as you may recall, she got her start with Byoearth when she won a business plan competition in 2006) – and she needs our help!

The organization behind this particular competition is called the “Unreasonable Institute”, and as their name implies, they are focused on helping “unreasonable” (bold, unique, “outside the box” etc) social/environmental entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground.

Here are some blurbs from the press release:

The Unreasonable Institute Empowers the Public to Choose the
Next Wave of High-Impact Social Entrepreneurs

Global donations will determine which entrepreneurs gain admission to esteemed mentorship program

BOULDER, Colo. –– Starting Jan. 20, 45 social entrepreneurs will showcase their ventures in an online platform called the Unreasonable Finalist Marketplace (http://marketplace.unreasonableinstitute.org/). For 50 days, people from around the world are invited to vote with their wallets on the most viable ventures. The first 25 of the 45 finalists to raise $8,000 in the Marketplace will earn access to the highly acclaimed six-week mentorship program at the Unreasonable Institute. At the Institute, these social entrepreneurs undergo rigorous training sessions, including personal and entrepreneurial skill development, intensive workshops and hands-on guidance from leading thought leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs and investors.

The 45 finalists were selected from more than 300 applicants in 60 countries. Each applicant had to present a financially self-sustaining venture that has the ability to scale to serve the needs of at least 1 million people and demonstrates customer validation through sales or pilots. The finalists this year include a Chinese engineer with a prototype for waterless composting toilets; a 2010 CNN Hero from Kenya who has distributed over 10,000 solar lanterns; and an American inventor with a water purification system that can roll up to the size of a ruler.
β€œA huge part of being a truly exceptional entrepreneur is to be able to rally excitement and support for your idea,” said Daniel Epstein, founding president of the Unreasonable Institute. β€œThe Marketplace tests these entrepreneurs’ ability to do just that and, in the form of public support garnered, offers a real-time measure of success.”

The 25 winning entrepreneurs become Unreasonable Fellows and, during the mentor program, will learn from, work alongside, and live with 60 mentors from a range of industries including venture capital, international development, social enterprise and marketing. Among the exceptional mentors and partners are Greg Miller, cofounder of Google.org; David Bornstein, author of β€œHow to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas”; Libby Cook, co?founder of Wild Oats; Tom Reilly, head of TED Fellows; and Bob Pattillo, founder of Gray Ghost Capital and First Light Ventures. In addition, the entrepreneurs will have a chance to build relationships with 30 globally recognized impact investment funds, such as Acumen Fund, Good Capital and Echoing Green, and pitch prospective investors. Last year, 60 percent of the Unreasonable Fellows seeking funding received capital for their ventures shortly after the end of the Institute.

You can make a donation here: http://marketplace.unreasonableinstitute.org/ventures/view/31/Byoearth

Let’s show a fellow vermicomposter our support by donating and/or helping to spread the word!
8)

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Garden Pool Food Production System

I just LOVE when people take food production into their own hands – especially using “outside the box” ideas like this!
No mention of vermicomposting – but WE all know they (composting worms) could easily be incorporated into the mix, don’t we?
πŸ˜‰

Be sure to check out the website as well: GardenPool.org

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The Magic of Vermicompost

It’s amazing the way we seem to quickly/easily forget how much some things change over time. A prime example – and one many people can relate to, I’m sure – is our children growing up. Well, there are certainly other examples, and one that came to mind recently was the changing of one’s yard/gardens over the years. Not everyone’s yard changes, of course – many of my neighbors still have the same green, manicured (and fertilized) yards they had when we first moved into our present home (6 years ago this coming spring) – but NOT me!
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A little while ago I was looking through some old digital photo folders when I came across a startling pre-vermicomposting-trench pic (featuring some family members playing croquet in the backyard). I couldn’t believe how barren everything looked! I was discussing this with my good friend Cassandra (who interviewed me for a podcast recently), and she suggested that I post the picture, along with some more recent shots.

What’s cool is that I even managed to find a recent shot that was taken from a similar angle as the croquet pic, so you can really get the full “Before/After” effect!


Needless to say, all my outdoor vermicomposting activities have had a HUGE impact on the overall fertility of my yard. What once seemed like a barren wasteland has become a verdant paradise, literally buzzing with life! I certainly won’t give all the credit to the worms (although they’ve likely done their share) – there are countless other critters involved as well.

I guess if there was a lesson here, apart from taking advantage of the “magic” of vermicompost, it would be that you should always, always, ALWAYS take LOTS of pictures (of your children, of your gardens – of everything!). You’ll have lots of fun looking back and reflecting on how far everything has come!



Just wait till I start using compost tea this year! lol
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Is Compost Tea Just a Fad?

One of our readers recently pointed me in the direction of a rather interesting article on the Fine Gardening (magazine) website entitled, “The Jury is Still Out on Compost Tea“.

I have little doubt that the article has touched a nerve with many serious compost tea proponents, since it essentially questions the value of using teas for various gardening applications (strangely they don’t have a comments section after the article – would certainly be a great opportunity for an interesting discussion).

I must admit to feeling a wee bit defensive myself when I first read it, even though I’m not really a compost tea advocate (simply haven’t used it enough myself). While I certainly don’t doubt that the “jury is still out” as far as more research being needed etc, and while I have little doubt that there are some people making exaggerated or even completely false claims – I just can’t help but feel that the author is potentially tossing out the baby with the bath water.

Here is an interesting blurb from the article:

Before you start using compost tea by the gallon, be aware that most of the claims made concerning this liquid have been anecdotal and, even then, inconsistent. The positive results from scientific studies have been few and, again, lacking in results meaningful to backyard gardeners. A documented benefit created under sterile conditions, for example, does not translate to a benefit in your backyard, with its slew of natural microorganisms.

Again, I certainly agree that there are lots of wild (and often unsubstantiated) claims out there re: the value of various types of compost teas (including vermicompost teas, of course), but the inner science-guy in me doesn’t mind keeping an open mind about some of the “anecdotal” positive feedback I’ve received from a lot of people. Take my good friend, Mike “Strawberry Guy” Wellik, for instance (certainly looking forward to seeing what you have to say about all this, Mike!) – he is a very science-minded, rational individual (with academic training in entomology, if I’m not mistaken), and has determined via testing in his strawberry business that vermicompost tea applications can be very beneficial! His results aren’t published in the academic literature, but you know what – I’m inclined to take his word for it!
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BTW – be sure to check out Mike’s recent YouTube video: Brewing and Using Vermicompost Tea

Dr. Clive Edwards, who was originally rather skeptical of compost teas (as stated in a “Castings Call” interview with Peter Bogdanov – will track down the specifics on that one), has even changed his tune in recent years, based on the promising findings of various research projects conducted by his team at The Ohio State University Soil Ecology Lab. He went so far as to refer to vermicompost teas as “almost magic” in an email he sent me, referring specifically to the success he had growing a prolific crop of cherry tomatoes in his own garden (uh-oh! Anecdotal results alert!! haha). This is an incredibly-accomplished (hundreds of academic publications to his name), “old school” scientist we’re talking about here!

I guess my main point here is that, even if we ignore all the promising (if nothing else) academic research results, I just don’t think we can say that ALL non-scientifically-proven claims should be ignored. Based on all that I have read – academic or otherwise – my gut feeling is that there is DEFINITELY some value in using compost teas!

Obviously, as is the case with “castings”, “compost”, “vermicompost” – we need some sort of firm definition of what exactly “compost tea” is. Not all teas are created equal, that’s for sure! Just because a certain type of tea produces a given set of results in a scientific study does not necessarily mean that another type of tea (or even the exact same tea) will produce the same results in the “real world” – so I guess, on that level, the author and I can agree. I simply feel that there is enough evidence (academic and anecdotal) to warrant a more optimistic view!

But hey – to each his/her own, right?

Anyway – I would LOVE to see what people have to say about this! MY comments section is open for business!
πŸ˜†

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Plum Worm Inn

It seems rather appropriate on this, our 600th blog post party day, to announce that we have a rather snazzy new Worm Inn design available!

I have updated the Worm Inn page, so the Plum design is now available in the drop-down selection menus. You’ll likely notice that I also added a new photo showing all the available designs (thanks to Jerry for sending me that great pic!).

A few things to mention…

1) In case you are wondering, the PVC stands shown in these new photos have been painted black. The corner pieces and zip ties that come in the stand kit are white.

2) Speaking of the stand kit – Jerry has been nice enough to let me continue including it with all Worm Inn orders. Let me remind everyone, though, that the kit ONLY contains the corner pieces and zip ties. Shipping costs associated with sending all the lengths of PVC piping would simply be too high. You can easily purchase the piping at most hardware stores (got mine from Home Depot), and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

3) I am thinking about starting up some sort of “Win a Worm Inn” contest soon, and would love to get some ideas from readers. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

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