Many times since February, Julie Villareal of the UMass Lowell Center for Family, Work, and Community (CFWC) has found herself up to her ankles in thousands of worms ߝ ‘red wigglers’ to be exact. Villareal has been assisting program manager David Turcotte in conducting the "Lowell Community Partnership for a Food Waste Composting Enterprise," a unique composting project using earthworms, or “vermicomposting.”
On Thursday, June 28, 2001 the Center will host an “End of Project Presentation” at 9:15 a.m. in the Wannalancit Mills first floor conference room at 600 Suffolk Street to review progress and discuss plans for the future.
Originally, the CFWC received a $25,000 grant from the Chelsea Center for Recycling and Economic Development to establish a demonstration site. The Chelsea Center has been so impressed with the results, they’ve added $5,000. The City of Lowell contributed $5,000. The Center also received support through the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs’ Clean Environment Fund.
The vermicomposting process involves many steps. Each week, five Lowell restaurants: Cobblestone’s, Khemara, Park Café, Sugar Shack, and Two Chefs, plus Aramark, have contributed five gallons of “pre-consumer” food waste, or waste generated prior to serving patrons.
CFWC student volunteers collect the buckets of waste containing fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, tea bags, bread and grains, and return it to a small space on UML’s North Campus. The waste is allowed to breakdown for a couple of weeks in a more traditional composting bin before it is moved to the vermi-bin, which houses the red wigglers.
“Let’s see if we can find a really big one,” Villareal says as she digs her gloved-hands into a pile of rich compost to get a closer look at the worms in action. She estimates that the “urban demo” composting site, which started last winter with 1000 worms, or eisenia foetida, now claims approximately 10,000 of the creatures.
Villareal, who has her own vermicomposting bin at home, says the use of worms for composting is “durable and more efficient” than other methods. The worms process whatever waste they intake within 24 hours, and the resulting mixture is higher in nutrients than non-worm techniques would produce.
The benefits of the project are twofold: it provides some relief for our dwindling landfill space, and it offers an economic opportunity. While the present funding draws to a close on June 30, Turcotte and Villareal see a need for continued support.
“This is an economic development project,” says Turcotte, “and we’ve developed a business plan to create a for-profit business.”
In Villareal’s eyes, the next phase of the project should be a large-scale, commercial venture somewhere in Lowell. She believes, with 22 markets, two hospitals, two colleges, numerous food processors and nearly 100 restaurants, Lowell has a bountiful supply of wasted food.
“If this were large scale, there would definitely be a market,” concludes Villareal.
Potential consumers of the product would include landscapers and garden centers. The center has already been approached by someone interested in managing the operation. Aramark, UMass Lowell’s food service provider, has already agreed to be an “anchor generator.”
For more information, please call David_Turcotte@uml.edu or Julie_Villareal@uml.edu at the Center for Family, Work, & Community at (978) 934-4677.