London

Nearly 1 million worms are turning food waste into garden gold at the Western Fair

Tucked away in the basement of the Progress Building are nearly one million red wriggler worms who, by the end of the year, will have helped to turn 30 tonnes of green waste into nutrient rich fertilizer.

The Wormery has diverted 30 tonnes of organic waste from landfill in 2020

These worms are reducing the Western Fair's impact on the environment

10 months ago
1:50
The Wormery has diverted 30 tonnes of organic waste from landfill and 22 tonnes of carbon emissions from the air this year. 1:50

There are new tenants at the Western Fair District. 

Tucked away in the basement of the Progress Building are nearly one million red wriggler worms who, according to Dan Lizmore, will have helped to turn roughly 30 tonnes of green waste into nutrient rich fertilizer by the end of the year.

Lizmore, a grounds supervisor at the Western Fair District, started the worm farm – known as The Wormery – late last year. At the time, he knew little more about worms than how to fish with them. 

"I can't believe how much food they can eat," he said. "The worms themselves are able to eat about ¾ of their own body weight per day." 

Kandace Moyse, part of the grounds crew at the Western Fair District, waters one of the 24 worm tables in The Wormery. They have to maintain a certain level of moisture in the material so that the worms eat and reproduce. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

The Wormery collects organic waste from tenants and vendors at the Western Fair District as well as a handful of other small businesses in London. After allowing the material to compost at the infield of the Western Fair Raceway for up to three months, it turns into worm food.

"The compost process, it breaks down and loses weight and loses density … so a lot of the weight that we bring in is actually gone by the time we use it as feed," explained Lizmore. 

The worm farm itself began with just a couple of 17 gallon storage bins and 2 pounds of worms, but it grew quickly. Now, the basement room where it's located consists of 700 square feet of worm tables, specially designed with reclaimed materials to accommodate the wriggly creatures. 

The bottom of a flow-through worm table is made of ropes, so the castings fall to the floor – with the help of a grounds crew member with a rake – when they're ready to be harvested. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

One style of table has a solid bottom and requires moving the worms out to harvest their castings, said Lizmore, while the other is called a continuous flow-through table. 

"The bottom is made of ropes or strings and it's actually a permeable bottom," said Lizmore. "So you feed the worms on top and they just stay in there, they're never disturbed by the harvest process, and the castings come out the bottom of the table." 

Lizmore said either himself or Kandace Moyse, another member of the grounds team, spends roughly one day tending to the worms per week. That means turning on fans or watering the tables to maintain a certain moisture balance, feeding the worms and harvesting their castings.

This is the bottom of a continuous flow-through table at The Wormery, which allows castings to fall to the ground when they're ready to be harvested. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

Reduces greenhouse gases

Marianne Griffith, programs director for London Environmental Network and acting manager for Green Economy London, said The Wormery has a significant impact on the environment. 

"Across all of the buildings, all of their staff know now to keep organic waste separate," she said. "So far – and they haven't been operating very long – they've been able to reduce about 22 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions." 

That's because every tonne of organic waste that goes to landfill generates about .75 tonnes of carbon emissions, she said. The average household emits about four tonnes of carbon emissions per year in heating and cooling, she added. 

"Not to mention just trucking waste around, if it's picked up by a hauler ... localizing the composting and having it done on site, it just reduces how many hands it's going through, how many litres of gasoline are needed to truck it around." 

It's also good for businesses, said Griffith, because they won't have to spend more on having the organic waste shipped away. 

"London currently doesn't have a green bin program and if and when we do, it's not likely to extend to commercial services right off the hop. Most businesses, most restaurants do not have a green bin or organic waste collection, so yes, it would have ended up in the landfill." 

There are 24 tables in The Wormery, which is the basement of the Progress Building at the Western Fair District. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

Sizing up

Right now, Lizmore said The Wormery is generating about 100 to 125 pounds of fertilizer per week. Bags of the nutrient-rich garden fertilizer can be purchased, he said, with profits going back into growing the operation in the New Year. 

"I think we can look to doubling the process," he said.

Lizmore also wants to turn it into an educational opportunity. 

"What's going to make this worth the effort is not having me learn that garbage is a problem, I think it's having kids and other people, having the educational aspect of letting people know composting isn't that hard to do," he said. 

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