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Interview With Tom Herlihy – Worm Power

Worm Power

I first heard about Tom Herlihy less than a year ago from Rhonda Sherman (Extension Solid Waste Specialist @ North Carolina State University). She informed me that Tom was “one of the big players in vermicomposting” these days. I felt a little silly for not knowing who he was (even given the fact that I had been out of the vermicomposting ‘loop’ for a little while), so I set out to find out! Of course, it took me very little effort to connect Tom with WormPower.net and to find proof that he was indeed a “major player” in the industry. The website alone provides plenty of evidence to indicate the success of the Worm Power line of products, but I also came across a fascinating article on the Worm Digest site (scroll to the bottom of page) that made it all the more evident. What makes the success of Worm Power all the more impressive is the fact that they’ve only been in operation for 22 months!

I’m very optimistic that Tom will continue to see a great deal of success with his business, and that he’ll be one of the people breathing new life into the vermicomposting industry – an industry that has been in need of some bright new stars for a number of years now (something I’ll likely write more about in a future post).


Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got into the business of vermicomposting?


TH – Thomas E. Herlihy (Tom) is the President of RT Solutions LLC with over 20 years specializing in all aspects organic waste management and utilization projects (design, permitting, operations and product use/marketing). He holds a Master’s degree in Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and a Bachelor’s in Physics and Mathematics. His agricultural background includes working as a general laborer on a producing Dairy Farm, serving as an International Agricultural Extension Agent in West Africa, and an agricultural Research Associate at Penn State University. He has authored and been the Primary Investigator on numerous Federal and State R&D project that assessed the environmental impact to plant, soil, and water resources from organic amendments. After 18 years as a consulting engineer, he founded his own firm and has focused all of his professional attention on developing vermicomposting as a viable technology for production agriculture and retail use (patent in review). For the project presented here, he raised significant funds from private investors and secured several Federal and State grants to design, build and operate North America’s largest process controlled vermicomposting operation.

Vermicomposting was a logical progression from my work with organic materials, where I began with wastewater treatment facilities. I have moved through a variety of organic waste treatment technologies from small to large and small to complex. I saw the difficulties of working with the end product raw organic materials, and composts from both the producers and growers prospective and have been working on developing higher value products and their respective systems ever since.

Large-scale vermicomposting systems are by far the hardest and most complex systems to operate in the composting field, but they unquestionably produce the most superior products. Our work has focused on bringing biological system engineering to standardize vermicomposting, and ensure the production of a consistent product.


What made you decide to use flow-through reactors (versus say windrows, for example)?


TH – We do not refer to our units as reactors, but as digesters to reflect their role as mesophillic incubators that further digest and stabilize organic materials with a complex combination of microorganisms and epigeic earthworms.

In my opinion, the single largest obstacle to commercial adoption of composting and vermicomposting is the lack of standards and consistency in the end-products produced. Compost and vermicompost are spoken about in our industry as if they are an elemental material (iron for example), when in fact there is an extraordinary range in quality – from phytotoxic to excellent — and in the physical, biological, and chemical characteristics. All would agree that different finished vermicomposts are produced depending on the initial feed stock (swine, poultry, dairy, human manure, food waste, yard waste, municipal solid waste etc…). Compound this feedstock variability with different processing systems, levels of operator knowledge, and internal quality control and it is easy to see why many serious growers avoid these products. Not surprisingly, this product variability can sour scientific researchers and the market to inconsistent products that produce inconsistent grower result(s).

Vermicomposters often focus and love the earthworms, the process and the craft of production so much they forget that their end product is a starting material for another producer’s process (plant grower).

We have expended extraordinary effort to design, build, and operate a facility that will produce a uniform and consistent product. Analytical testing has shown our materials are behaving in a repeatable fashion, and our growers can rely on our products arriving and functioning consistently. .


How long does it take to produce finished vermicompost from fresh cattle manure?


TH – Our production process is 65 days from cow to consumer.


There has been considerable research (primarily conducted at OSU) to indicate that vermicompost has some pretty incredible plant growth promoting properties. Have you seen similar results with your materials?


TH – After only 22 months of production, we have many excellent examples and testimonials from consumers stating/photographing outstanding plant growth and other beneficial results from using our Worm Power products. As a scientist, I have to state that this information needs to be referred to as anecdotal evidence. This type of field/grower data was not produced in a designed and controlled experiment. Over a beer, I would be glad to chew your ear off and tell you how great the results have been for our growers, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of saying all vermicomposts, will work like this all the time (see my concerns above)

Since construction, we have worked closely with Cornell University in an attempt to determine what in our vermicompost causes these results. The end goal is to identify the key parameters (physical/chemical/biological) that correlate with results. This will allow us to operate our system better, and provide our growers a more guaranteed result. I would inject a word of caution that there are labs in the country that currently claim this level of knowledge, but in my opinion the science is still VERY VERY far from this state. In the interim we feel secure in operating our facility in a consistent manner, and producing a consistent material that will produce consistent results.


What do you see as some of the potential negatives of large-scale vermicomposting (if any)?


TH – Large scale vermicomposting requires a unique set of skills to be done in a professional, profitable and sustainable manner. Please have large facility experience or hire professional solid waste engineers to work out the economics/flow of material handling, animal husbandry, maintaining a controlled environment, and waste management. There is a large difference between being able to “do” large-scale vermicomposting and being able to “profitably do” large scale vermicomposting.

Additionally, the production of significant volumes of vermicompost requires the marketing of all the material(s) at a price that justifies the investment. This requires both (1) an agronomic background, if you wish to speak the same language and market to high value growers (those able to afford your materials), (2) a major marketing effort (money, time, and people).


What sort of advice might you offer someone thinking about getting into the business of vermicomposting/vermiculture?


TH – I truly want to encourage people to vermicompost, but I want to see the industry stop going through its destructive cycles of being overrun with zealots (claim vermicompost will cure the worlds ills), scammers (worm grower pyramid schemes), or false marketers (questionable vermicompost products). In this medium I will not go into more details.

Serious large scale practioners will always be welcomed by those in the field. Those of us with significant investments simply don’t want zealots/scammers/snake oil salesman giving the industry a “black eye”. With that said, there is not nearly enough good vermicompost material being produced and marketed to meet the demand today, let alone tomorrows’. I think I can say that we feel there is not much internal (inside the industry) competition, and that a “raising tide lifts all boats”.


Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers? (exciting new projects/products, general thoughts etc etc)?


TH – Reading back over my answers, I’m sorry for the negatives, as I really do enjoy what I do and feel great about this work and this industry’s potential. As in all things in life “do your home work”, and don’t be surprised that “you will get out of it what you put into it”.


To learn more about Tom and/or Worm Power, be sure to check out the Worm Power website!

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Written by Bentley on January 14th, 2008 with 16 comments.
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16 comments

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Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Alain Doyon
#1. November 26th, 2008, at 4:53 PM.

I am from Quebec, Canada. I’m in relation with a part time vermicomposters. He wants to develop his business on a large scale.
This guy is a dreamer and it is OK. We need that kind of man to develop that business. I’m graduated in administration option marketing. My role will be to build a strategic plan to develop the business on a large scale. After reading this article, I will take your company like benchmarking. I hope to visit you sometime on your farm next summer.

A.D.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com M Coyne
#2. March 21st, 2009, at 12:24 AM.

Tom

See ” Wary-of-wall street ” on I think Mar 12. The reference to
Woody Tesch is with-in that story. It was hard for me to find, so I think I probably gave you a poor reference to it. I hope this is useful info. for you
( us ) . I read A.D. from Qeu. Can. with a bit of a chuckle. Do you too ?

Malachy

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jose L. Benitez
#3. August 24th, 2011, at 10:18 AM.

I own and run an 80 stalls horse farm operation in Puerto Rico, where
the disposal of manure is a big problem (expensive too!). We produce
aprox. 8 cubic yards of manure per day. I wonder if composting is the
answer to my problems. How can I contact a true expert in the matter?

Jose
cheguiben@hotmail.com

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#4. August 24th, 2011, at 3:19 PM.

Jose – I recommend following the link to the WormPower website and contacting Tom there. He may be able to offer some advice. Also, Rhonda Sherman at NCSU is an excellent person to contact (regarding anything relating to the vermicomposting industry). Feel free to drop me an email if you want me to help you get connected with her.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jerry Scholder
#5. February 15th, 2012, at 12:44 PM.

Having been in the specialized field of Vermicomposting of Sludge/Biosolids for 3 years now and using the knowledge of Dr. Roy Hartenstein, a pioneer in this field, I would like to comment on some of T.H.’s statements. First, I should say I’ve always admired Tom’s willingness to talk with me and others without holding himself out as someone who is inaccessible. I am somewhat disappointed that Tom did not mention the over 1 million dollars his venture was provided in government grants to help him achieve his current success. I would take exception to his view that the largest obstacle for commercialization is the lack of standards and consistentcy in the end products produced. The largest obstacle in my view is the governmental entities like the E.P.A. which have arbitrarily without any scientific basis and fact have established standards that even when met are not enough to certify processes such as vermistabilization of municipal biosolids. These Class A converted biosolids are pathogen free, organic fertilizer, comparable to worm power’s product but achieved in a non-thermophillic, more environmentally safe and quicker timeframe. See Dr. Clive Edward’s research done in 1995-1999. The real problem is, if approved, the vermistabilization process would make available an almost unlimited amount of organic fertilizer available to the public at a fraction of what it costs today. Consequently, significant reductions in the use of miracle grow, scott’s and various chemical fertilizers would occur and the present pricing models of organic fertilizers like worm power would be compromised. Present Waste Disposal companies would lose revenues not needing to transport as much waste to landfills. While I agree there are alot of scams, shysters, and zealots out there, I will not apologize for trying to make the world a better place through earthworm biotechnology as a way to reduce global warming and arrest serious climate change while reducing less environmentally conscious alternatives such as landfilling and incineration. It is real and it is possible. I am thinking that T.H. may be concerned that others will become more knowledgable and able to provide comparable products which worm power presently has a unique niche market, and create some competitive pressure. It doesn’t hurt to have large grants available in helping to do “profitable” large scale vermicomposting. T.H.’s marketing and sales expertise has certainly created a sustainable profitable venture that few others could accomplish. I continue to feel that he, and others like Rhonda Sherman should push for greater support in doing what so many other countries are doing as an alternative to spending millions of dollars on upgrading or building wastewater treatment facilities, adding to landfill space, or polluting the atmosphere with more incineration plants. All of these methods contribute significant amounts of greenhouse gases to further exacerbate current global warming trends.
Lastly, whether anecdotal or not, there is no question that vermicastings provide a significant benefit to soil, plants, the environment and the atmosphere, without requiring the thermophillic energy consumption that all current processes use to meet EPA 503 PFRP standards for Class A material. I will agree that large scale VC or VS requires a unique set of skills—if it didn’t everyone would be doing it.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Tom Herlihy
#6. February 17th, 2012, at 9:16 AM.

Hi all!

I would like to offer a few comments on Jerry’s post.

First off, it is a fact that Worm Power and our collaborators at Cornell University have been awarded almost $1.5 Million dollars since 2004 in the form of 18 peer reviewed grants and awards. What is not often mentioned, is that NONE of these funds were used to support Worm Power in any type of direct economic investment. Basically, I wrote or coauthored grants to study large scale vermicomposting, and the use of vermicompost products in multiple aspects of horticultural production. The funds have been split between Cornell and Worm Power and almost exclusively used to support the labor needed to do the research. No grant funding can ever, or was ever taken as a “profit” or used to build any of our infrastructure. If interested, please simply look at the titles of the grants which are all public knowledge and none are from an economic development agency all are science based.

Worm Power has raised over $5MM dollars from private investors and it is that funding exclusively (100%) which has built our world class facility (I will make no apologies). No one should ever think it is easy to get a party to give this level of funding to a “worm-based” project. Vermicomposting simply cannot show the kind of financial return that most investment banker/venture capitalists require. This is a HARD HARD road and I have little good to say about the process.

Regarding biosolids, and vermicomposting I would also like to make some observations.
1) It is not proven that vermicomposting alone is a sufficient Process to Further Reduce Pathogens (PFRP) required for all technologies that wish to become EPA certified for use with human manure. The EPA is charged by law with protecting human health and the environment, and they rightfully take this responsibility seriously. We should not expect the EPA to change laws based on 2-3 promising papers from academic researchers. In 2000, Dr Scott Subler, other and myself wrote a grant proposal to do the kind of multi-facility (not all biosolids are alike), multi-year testing required to produce enough data to modify regulations. The proposal was not funded, and to my limited knowledge has never been revisited seriously. (I have left the biosolids filed after being in it as an engineer for 20+ years). In fairness to the EPA, they have a section of the law (PART 503) where any facility can use a new technology no identified in the regulations (Like vermicomposting), as long as they meet certain minimal testing (before and after) and reporting requirements.

Second there are some promising papers showing pathogen treatment to the required safety levels, but I know other studies that have shown vermicomposting did not reach the required levels. It is interesting to note that Dr. Edwards has studies showing both – a clear indication of how involved a process scientific regulation should be and why it should be done carefully.

My opinion is that when the biosolids vermicomposting process is better characterized, vermicomposting will be recognized as a PFRP technology by the EPA. But first we need to know:
how many worms per pound of human manure per day
how long to vermicompost
what type of human manure (WWTP type) – not all will work equally
under what controlled environmental conditions
How do we measure a “finished” vermicompost, and about 5 others.

Lastly there is the economic argument. Vermicomposting is simply and unarguably a much more EXPENSIVE technology than composting. As any large, medium, small, or homeowner can tell you it, requires more attention (skill), physical infrastructure and more labor intensive to produce vermicompost than compost. I don’t think we should knock composting –we are complimentary biologically based technology. In reality, no single tool will work in every situation, and we shouldn’t think the same about composting and vermicomposting.

I strongly stand by statements that we can’t let our belief in vermicomposting cloud our scientific objectivity. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not entitled to their own facts. It is a complicated world and requires patience and hard work to be a responsible agent of change.

Worm Workers of the World Unite!!!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Allison Jack
#7. February 17th, 2012, at 12:16 PM.

@Jerry, I’m a little confused by your comments:

“I am somewhat disappointed that Tom did not mention the over 1 million dollars his venture was provided in government grants to help him achieve his current success.”

and

“It doesn’t hurt to have large grants available in helping to do “profitable” large scale vermicomposting.”

Worm Power has all of their grants posted on their website, so it’s not like this information isn’t freely available. And like Tom said all of the state and federal grants are part of the public record and award amounts and project outcomes are available online for most of the projects.

http://www.wormpower.net/worm-castings/content.php?k=27

I feel I need to explain here how the grant process works because I have been directly involved in the collaboration that you are discussing here. For the USDA SBIR projects my advisor’s lab at Cornell received a substantial portion of the funds as a subcontractor and those funds went to support me as a graduate student (tuition and stipend), support undergraduate staff in the lab, purchase all of our lab consumables used to carry out the research, pay monthly rent on a growth chamber and cover Cornell’s institutional overhead rate (ranges from 25 – 54%).

For the NYFVI project, Worm Power didn’t receive a penny. Tom donated his time to help me write the grant and recruit grower collaborators, served on the project advisory board without financial compensation, and donated significant staff time to help carry out some of the field work (ask Howie about hand planting garlic all day or Shawn about harvesting bare root grape plants for 10 hours in the snow with our team!).

And for some of the NYSTAR projects Worm Power actually kicked their own company funds as 1.5 (industry) : 1 (NY state) matching funds for the industry – university collaboration (again receiving no funds themselves). So in that case funds generated through the sale of vermicompost went directly to support research (again paying my stipend, tuition, health insurance, consumables etc) instead of what you imply here that state money somehow went to running the Worm Power facility.

I’ve attended a few US Composting Council meetings in the past and heard a lot of industry folks complaining that scientists aren’t doing research that is relevant to the composting industry. At the time I paid out of pocket to attend the meetings and present my research results, USCC had no financial support in terms of travel grants, registration discounts or scholarships for students and offered no grant money to fund research. Science costs money, folks. So does extension and education. If the industry wants answers to relevant questions, then you have to build a relationship with a researcher, read up on the subject and write a grant and/or step up and kick in some funds until your company is big enough to have its own R&D department. For example, if you want Rhonda to support biosolids vermicomposting, as you mention in your post, call her up, write a grant with her and get a project going to learn more about this technology, but please don’t complain that academia isn’t doing enough. That’s like complaining about the government while not voting or contacting your representatives on issues you care about. In my opinion, it is only through continued industry – academia collaboration that we can build this field into a viable national industry.

If everyone in this industry valued and supported research as much as Worm Power does, we would all be in a better place in terms of understanding the biology of the vermicomposting process and the end product. I’m honored to have Worm Power as industry collaborators for my dissertation research at Cornell.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Martin Brooks
#8. February 18th, 2012, at 12:54 AM.

Hello All,

Jerry, nothing is stopping you from applying for grants. In fact, I strongly suggest that you check into it. Working in collaboration with your local universities will only help all of us. That is the only way in which regulations will be changed. Furthermore, the more research that is funneled toward this field, the more benefit we will all gain.

Remember, a rising tide lifts all boats.

You better believe that I will be quoting the studies that the above mentioned grants paid for when I am seeking investors.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Martin Brooks
#9. February 18th, 2012, at 1:18 AM.

And when I am selling my products

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#10. February 18th, 2012, at 7:22 AM.

Interesting discussion everyone! The human-waste-vermicomposting topic (and pathogen destruction via vermicomposting in general) has certainly been of interest to me over the years. While the results have seemed promising, there definitely needs to be a lot more research in the field (as Tom pointed out).

Actually just came across this interesting project (started recently):
http://amssustainability.ca/2012/02/16/humanure-vermicomposting/

Not a huge, well-funded study by any means, but should be interesting to see what they find.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jerry Scholder
#11. February 29th, 2012, at 9:26 AM.

It’s always great to find a subject that creates feedback…negative or positive, as it gives everyone a chance to weigh in and express their viewpoints–some of which are very pointed indeed. Regardless, let me clear up a few misinterpretations arrived at by those from reading my first post.
While it is clear I am jealous, envious, and eager to obtain the funding needed to promote my own projects, I was not “implying” that T.H. is running Worm Power on government grant money. I wrote in fact, it helped him “to achieve his current success”. I actually stated emphatically that due to his marketing and sales abilities he was able to maintain a thriving business in the future. I do applaud A.J. for her staunch defense of her mentor and supporter. I happen to know how the grant process works, and I also know the difficulties in finding those few grants that occasionally become available. I also have some level of support from VA. Tech’s Dr. Greg Evanylo to assist me with some of the more complicated portions of completing a grant application, including budgeting expenses and costs for lab analysis, etc., however without the funds to compensate him and his University, I cannot expect much. As for A.J. implying that I need to build a relationship, read up on the subject, write a grant, etc. etc.; her assumption that I just fell off the back of a turnip truck is very amusing. If scientists aren’t doing research relevant to the vermicomposting industry, it isn’t for lack of funds only; it’s more likely because our own so called “experts” and scientific community aren’t using their influence and “pull” to support past studies in America and other countries which have confirmed without question that vermistabilization is a viable, safe, and proven alternative as a non-thermophillac process to convert biosolids meeting Part 503 Class A critieria. It amazes me how some researchers and scientists that are supposed to support conclusions based on science, are the same people that can’t resist the opportunity to question new scientific results when they occur, especially when current research contradicts earlier assumptions that turn out to be incorrect. When you have E.P.A. stating they have a concern over the “mechanism” that is used and they’re not sure if it will process 100% of all the biosolids, one has to wonder whether they have looked at any updated studies since 1997. Greg Evanylo’s interpretation of EPA’s concern over the “mechanism” used– “It is not appropriate to ascribe a PFRP (process to further reduce pathogens) to vermicomposting if one can’t identify the cause of the pathogen reduction, (it’s the worm-duh) it has not been demonstrated how V.C. destroys pathogens and hence it is not possible to know under what conditions V.C. may succeed or fail”, (this explanation has been detailed many times, and the premise is false.) Greg Evanylo’s translation of EPA’s concern whether all biosolids would be processed “If the pathogen reduction occurs upon the passing of the material through the worm, then there is a concern that an ample amount of pathogens are killed to generate a Class A material”, (Plenty of research has already been done and has been conclusive; properly managed, worms will continue to feed on microbial waste until there are no remaining microbes available, besides that’s why biosolids are tested periodically. This has been done by many other countries, why not in the U.S.?.–oh, wait a minute it was confirmed in the U.S. by Dr. Clive Edwards, but still not approved, (http://www.jgpress.com/BCArticles/1999/11994.html). I disagree with T.H.’s statement that V.C. alone is not proven. T.H. himself stated that “the resulting V.C. could be classified as an EPA exceptional quality biosolid” in his paper,” V.C. of Organic Wastes” with Joyce Engineering. As per Tom’s insistence that no grant funding was used for infrastructure, I was misled by Worm Power’s video on YouTube that stated “It is the product of a federally funded research project” (5:25-5:35) and by comments made by Roger Beachy, Dir. USDA, NIFA stating that “state money, angel dollars (?) and all sorts of money were needed to help kick off the success of Worm Power’s expansion”. I do not criticize this, I only am trying to point out that to deny that grant money had no part in the ability of Worm Power to get a foothold in its future success seems unrealistic. I also would like to find these same grant opportunities some day; if you know of any, please drop me a line. Two to three promising papers from academic researchers on the subject of vermistabilization? . Are you speaking of throughout the World or are you referring to a small college somewhere? Check out Dr. Rajiv Sinha’s work from Griffith University http://www.griffith.edu.au/environment-planning-architecture/atmospheric-environment-research-centre/staff/sinha-rajivustralia. Studies that have failed to indicate success in vermistabilization should be no surprise due to their inability to properly manage the properties and process needed to ensure a successful outcome. When the biosolids vermicomposting process is better characterized? What does this mean? The questions you pose are known and have been known since the late 70’s and 80’s when Dr. Roy Hartenstein published many research papers on earthworms and by others such as Loehr, 1985 sludge stabilization; Richardson, 1999-“ Eisenia Foetida and destruction of Pathogens”; Mitchell, 1977- “Aerobic sludge-stabilized sludge”; Budzich, Jeffrey 2001 Thesis-“Evaluating Vermistabilization as a natural approach to Biosolids Management”; Bisesi, Michael 1987 Thesis-“Vermimicrobedaphic Biotechnology: A Holistic Approach for Management of residuals derived from used water treatment”; Dominquez, 1997-“ Fecal Coliform bacteria do not survive vermicomposting”, and many others. It is clear that other studies aren’t needed as much as past studies need to be looked at and taken more seriously. Why the composting vs vermicomposting comparison? I certainly didn’t mention it, but if we are going there, why not relate the cost of vermicomposting verses landfilling or wastewater treatment plant processing, or incineration as comparisons? Why not compare the environmental consequences of each? The amount of energy, labor, and capital costs for thermophillic methods of stabilization is wasteful. Skill required for VC is only necessary if one is trying to maximize the benefits of vermicomposting. Education of the vermicomposting process is more relevant than any skill required to perform it. I’m not sure what you are referring to by physical infrastructure? A small space is needed outdoors with a cover. Inside, a 5,000 square foot space can process almost 3 tons per day. With vermicompost you don’t have the smell, you have a valuable, beneficial byproduct in castings that compost alone doesn’t produce, you have the composted results in a much quicker timeframe, and you can have a worm farm as a hobby. You merely have to monitor temperature, moisture, pH, determine how much wastes are placed in a given area at any time, and maintain aeration. With vermicomposting of biosolids there is less energy required, less labor, less time involved, less greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere and less capital expenditures. The finished product is available within 7-10 days. And it is a more environmentally beneficial process. Someone that is simply composting and not taking advantage of the benefits of vermicomposting is missing out in a big way. I have made my point.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Allison Jack
#12. February 29th, 2012, at 2:14 PM.

@ Jerry, thanks for clarifying that you were not implying that Worm power is run on government grants. That is exactly how I read your comment, and it wouldn’t be the first time that someone has incorrectly implied the same.

Biosolids stabilization is not my field, although I’ve read many of the references you mention. It’s great that you’re working with Dr. Evanylo at Virginia Tech. I’m curious as to why you are not applying for grants together as a full collaboration. From your website, it looks like you already have some pilot scale experiments up and running. Have you looked into the USDA SBIR or EPA SBIR programs? Like I mentioned in my earlier post SBIR is a great program for industry – university collaborations with some of the funds going to the small business and some of the funds going to a university subcontract so that you can do research on a new technology together. These are offered every year. Most states offer support for businesses creating new technologies that are environmentally friendly. Have you looked into any of these opportunities in Virginia (I’m assuming that’s where you are since you mentioned Virginia Tech)? http://www.deq.state.va.us/osba/finance.html

I still stand by my assertion that the large grants are available to everyone. Tom doesn’t have any special “in” other than the networking he has done while developing this project. You and I both agree that it is not an easy process. But I would encourage everyone in our field to try it and then keep at it.

And a brief comment on this statement:

“I continue to feel that he (Tom), and others like Rhonda Sherman should push for greater support in doing what so many other countries are doing as an alternative to spending millions of dollars on upgrading or building wastewater treatment facilities, adding to landfill space, or polluting the atmosphere with more incineration plants.”

I can’t speak for them, but I imagine Tom’s pretty tied up running Worm Power and managing their research collaborations and Rhonda has her hands full providing educational support to small and medium scale vermicomposting businesses (the only extension program in the country offering this service). I therefore nominate you to take the lead on this important aspect of vermicomposting technology. It looks like you have the background to take this on. Go for it!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jerry Scholder
#13. March 1st, 2012, at 12:14 PM.

A.J.; I’m glad that our correspondence has returned to a more civil nature and a mutual respect has been established. I believe the answer to why Dr. Evanylo and I are not collaborating on completing Grants together is his lack of available time, as he has other projects that he is being compensated for through existing Grants he is working on. I am excited to get any support I can from him and understand his predicament. I presently have a Grant Proposal nearly completed entitled: “Use of Vermiculture for Reducing Global Warming and Arresting Severe Climate Change”. Thanks for the excellent leads to funding and I will follow-up. I do have contacts at EPA and NSF and have heard about the USDA and EPA SBIR programs. In one case I missed a deadline due to 35th Anniversary Cruise planned, and in another I just didn’t have the entire Grant information available to complete the Grant (budgeting and expenses).
I have already taken the lead on the research for the field of vermistabilization in the U.S. Rajiv Sinha of Australia seems to be the most knowledgable in this field at the moment. As you know, I have no reputation or credibility established yet so without people like Dr. Greg, I wouldn’t be given the time of day by most people. This being said, my mentor, Dr. Roy Hartenstein, along with Dr. Sinha, and others that see the logic in pursuing the goal of “bringing back from the dead” a non-thermophillic alternative (vermistabilization) to achieving EPA Part 503 PFRP certification have been extremely supportive and knowledgable.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Martin Brooks
#14. March 4th, 2012, at 1:41 AM.

Hello All,
This exchange has been, for me, very informative and exciting. I very much fall into the category of “just fell off the back of a turnip truck” when it comes to this industry. Since falling off that particular truck, however, I am doing my best to bring myself up to speed. It is quite fun. Each day brings me a wealth of information, wonder, and amazement. I had never really given it much thought beyond land-fills (used to drive by a huge one in South Florida daily) and having my septic tank pumped out (which reminds me, I have a call I need to make :-)

I am also sickened, saddened, and finally, angered at a great deal of the information I am presented with because I am having difficulty understanding why this technology isn’t more widespread. I spoke with Shawn Ferro, Worm Power Director of Operations, yesterday and was shocked when he informed me that there are only 5 or so large vermicomposting facilities in the U.S.

I mentioned driving by the landfill daily. It was HUGE! I failed to mention that daily I would also think of something that I had seen on T.V. at some point. An archeologist (Bill Rathje, professor at the University of Arizona) was boring into landfills. He showed a newspaper that was decades old, yet intact and readable! That never left me. So,…

In regards to the proven viability of this technology and it’s efficacy in reducing landfills, etc., I ask, why is it so unknown here in the U.S.? Or rather, why is it not supported more?
Thanks, Martin

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jerry Scholder
#15. March 4th, 2012, at 5:21 PM.

Oh Martin, Martin, Martin; it makes me feel so good that you actually care, and that you have asked the question so simply that everyone should want to know…..why is it that every other country has jumped on the band wagon and not the most technologically innovative country in the world….the USA? The simple answer is it involves saving lots of $$, the next answer is it changes present methods in such an extreme way that it’s frightening to envision what the success would mean to our concept of waste disposal as we presently know it. Waste Disposal is one of the largest and most profitable ventures in the U.S. (allegedly used to be run by the Mafia–who knows now?) Point is it would take money out of a lot of pockets, including Waste Management, landfill owners, land application companies, and even from our friends at Worm Power. The third reason is that no one has stated clearly enough and loudly enough to the people that need to hear it the most, how beneficial it would be to adopt vermicomposting as a more environmentally sensible way, a more cost effective and energy efficient way, the most simplistic way and a significant way to arrest the effects of soil erosion, greenhouse gas emissions, leaching of chemicals into ground waters and streams, foul odors from toxic and pathogenic biosolids being applied to the land, and the waste of landfill space so critically needed for other things that can’t be returned to the earth through vermicomposting. The application of the byproducts of this process (castings) are natural nutrients to plants, which also increases productivity of crops by up to 20% and can offset the continuing loss of agricultural land to commercial and residential development or poor agricultural practices.
Maybe we should blame Dr. Clive Edwards, the only man in the U.S. to prove the effectiveness of vermistabilization of biosolids by non-thermophillic methods, only to be turned down by the EPA for no apparent reason other than their inability to understand how a worm can consistently and totally disinfect pathogenic biosolids just by ingesting them. Was there more to it? If not, why did he give up the fight? And if there was more to it than that, why has he not disclosed it? Either way, it does not make sense, but I have chosen the path of fighting on. I sometimes wish it was more complicated than that, but sadly it isn’t. There are still the so called “experts” that don’t understand the importance of the Humic Substances that worms produce in their castings. How these humic substances effect things like metals, soil erosion and dust storms, severe climate change and weather patterns, flooding and replacement of soil carbon; how these humic substances could decrease the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere worldwide by 6.4 billion kg. In 2010 the US Dept of energy reported 8 trillion kilograms entering the atmosphere. I must stop before I am labeled a “zealot”.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Martin Brooks
#16. March 12th, 2012, at 11:54 PM.

:-)

Thanks Jerry for your reply. It has provided many hours of thought and entertainment.

First- Whoah …, breathe deeply.

Your simple answer is, just as simply, wrong.

Your second reason was just expanding your first simple answer and thus, as already stated, is wrong. This is quite easily demonstrated to be so. Since this comment section is attached to Tom’s interview, we have obviously already acknowledged his success (which seems to stick in your craw for some reason that I don’t understand yet). Now,…let’s all pretend, just for a space of time, that Tom had not the insight and vision he had that still leaves the fact that there is money to be made. Just look at global wholesale prices of vermicastings. ALL global indicators suggest that the demand for vermicastings far exceed supply and will so for a long, long time. And the only way it would take money out of Tom’s pocket would be if you were able to meet the demand first. No, I think Tom would be able to sleep soundly even when every waste management company is vermicomposting.Nor, is it because of money for waste management. Really? The only way that it would take money out of my pocket, if I were waste management, would be if I did not utilize vermi-composting. If the waste operators fully understood the profit potential not just in sale of casting material but in the positive public image generated by their diversion of material from landfills, they would be on it “like a duck on a junebug” Especially if the industry was run by less than scrupulous individuals, they could then justifiably add a maggot bed side by side with the worm bed and dispose of other forms of “organic waste” with no questions asked.

:-)

(Sorry, worked a forensic psychiatric unit for a period of time plus, just perhaps, a few too many viewings of “Goodfellas”).

So, no Jerry, saving money is not the reason.

The third (really second) reason that you give is “no one has stated clearly enough and loudly enough to the people that need to hear it the most …{vermi composting benefits info}…”

I think, Jerry, that is the answer to my question in it’s entirety. Public ignorance.

Oh, Jerry, why the attacks, dude? “blame Dr. Clive Edwards” for what? Not doing more to inform the public? He has changed my life through his work and writings. I know I am not the only one. If you have an issue with him not pursuing a particular line of research, could it be he had interest in other areas? Again, breathe deeply.

Ultimately, it really seems to be public ignorance (ignorance =lack of knowledge, not lack of intellectual ability).

How interesting.

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