Northern Michigan Kids Learn About Worms

“Ms. Meghan, is there a law against using red worms for fishing?”

This is the question I was faced with after introducing a class of third and fourth-graders to a bin of their new classroom pets: nearly 500 red wiggler worms. The kids had learned about composting in the garden, and graduated to learning about composting—gasp!—indoors, and they were worried about the fate of their new friends.

While it may seem counterintuitive at first, indoor composting with worms (also known as vermicomposting) is actually one of the easiest, cleanest and most economical methods of composting. Red wiggler worms can eat up to half of their body weight in organic material each day, and they love munching on garbage like carrot peels, eggshells, even dryer lint.

After chowing down, the worms’ digestive system converts the scraps into the black gold of gardening: compost. These castings, as they’re called, make for an excellent garden soil supplement. They also eliminate the scraps that, according to a recent EPA report, make up 35 million tons of waste sent to American landfills each year.

Trina Ball, a community advocate affectionately known as the “Worm Lady” has been connecting classrooms to compost bins for several years now. She has served as a resource for teachers interested in getting started with composting in their classrooms, and sometimes visits the classes to introduce them to their new hard-working friends.

For Trina, her hope is that “farm to school programs will encourage the next generation to stop treating our soil like dirt.” The bins also serve as a means for students to experience a hands-on activity that engages all of the senses, not to mention allows them to reconnect with some of the garden’s most unsung heroes.

One member of the next generation has truly taken that message to heart. Carter Schmidt of Carter’s Compost is a fifth grader at Central Grade Elementary by day and “Chief Bucket Slinger” by afternoons and weekends. Along with some help from his dad, Carter started the company in 2012 “as a way to help green my neighborhood by making composting super easy for my neighbors.”

This fall Carter’s Compost launched a new community project called Worms to Classrooms, which pairs Traverse City teachers with worm bins they can care for during the school year and return to Carter’s Compost come summer. In its first year, the project brought worms to 15 teachers at 10 area schools.

At Central Lake Elementary, where the inquisitive fourth grader asked me about the legality of using red worms as bait, teacher Michelle Perkins sees the worm bin as a resource that can help her students begin to think critically about food waste at home and in the cafeteria. Her class has adopted a bin for the remainder of the year, and several students have already expressed interest in creating bins to take home once their worm population takes off, which usually happens after about three months in an average-sized bin.

So, is there a law against using red wiggler worms as fish food? Well, no. But with more classrooms and households signing up to house these unconventional pets every day, you never know what might happen.

In the words of one third-grader: “If I were president I would make a law that no one could use red worms for fishing- they have more important things to do!”

For more info on vermicomposting (including how to make your own worm bin) head to this article by Trina Ball and check out this short and sweet video from TED Ed.

 

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Northwest Michigan’s Farm to School Program Thrives

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