The Fertile Earth Story
Fertile Earth Worm Farm was born out of a desire to do better. To be better stewards of the Earth, to create better compost for our community.
In 2008, our founder, Dr. Lanette Sobel, was working as a visiting researcher with Dr. Daniel Meeroff from Florida Atlantic University (FAU), on a project to green hotels in south Florida. After performing waste audits on two hotels in Miami, the team discovered that hotels were producing about one ton of organic “waste” per hotel room per year. With over 20,000 hotel rooms on just Miami Beach alone, that was a lot of waste. Looking into what options existed besides landfilling, we discovered that there were none. So, we decided to create an option. And after much trial and error, Fertile Earth Worm Farm was finally born in 2011.
Over time, we also discovered that our local agricultural industries were importing soil or soilless media like peat moss from all over the world, including Lithuania and Canada. The use of chemical fertilizers running off into our canals, lakes and streams were causing algal blooms, killing off fish and flora in our bays and oceans. The compost that was available was of poor quality, having been made only of decomposing landscaping materials, and typically was full of plastic and other trash. We had to do better.
Our first worm farm in Homestead, FL was off to a rocking start, but only six months in we were wiped out by invasive flatworms, which ate all of our earthworms in an amazingly quick period of time. Almost no one knew what flatworms were at the time, let alone that they were even present in south Florida. These small creatures would attach themselves to earthworms much bigger than themselves, inject digestive enzymes which would turn the earthworm’s innards into a soup, allowing them to suck out a meal, then leaving the half-digested earthworm to die. Flatworms (like earthworms) are hermaphrodites, but unlike earthworms, they have the ability to reproduce asexually as well, breaking off into small pieces and growing a new head in 18 days. Yes, you read that right!
After that fiasco, Lanette needed a break. Logically, she decided to leave Miami in 2013 and go get a doctorate in Plant Medicine from the University of Florida. She kept FEWF running by continuing to pick up food from entities such as the Marlins Baseball Stadium and Whole Foods Market and sending the food to farms all over south Florida to feed animals from chickens and pigs to lions and alligators (and everything in between). Seven years and five million pounds of food later, after also obtaining a Master’s degree in Forest Pathology, having a kid, getting a divorce and taking off a year to take care of family, she moved back to south Florida in January of 2020, and relaunched the Fertile Earth Worm Farm!
With this newest rendition, it’s time to blow things up. It’s time to get serious. Because time is of the essence. We can’t afford to continue doing “business as usual.” Our landfills are leaking, threatening our water supplies. The methane gas generated by food very slowly decomposing in landfills without oxygen is a major contributor to climate change. Forty percent of food never even makes it off the fields due to small imperfections or “being too ripe to ship” or because prices are so low that it’s more cost effective for farmers to let food rot than to harvest it. Food rots in our refrigerators, or gets tossed out in supermarkets because of a bruise or a blemish. We leave food on our plates all too often. We’re being exposed to too many pesticides only to find out years later that popular herbicides like Paraquat are linked to Parkinson’s Disease, or Glyphosate (otherwise known as Roundup) is linked to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
The problem is huge and occurs on so many different levels. All of us are part of the problem, but all of us can also be part of the solution.
At FEWF, we’re doing our best to solve just one small piece of the puzzle. The food we pick up is carefully and meticulously composted, making sure the piles are turned on a regular basis and that they reach the temperatures necessary to kill off pathogens and weed seeds. Worms convert the compost into highly bioactive worm castings. We use the castings to make a tea which provides an immediate boost in fertility to plants while also providing beneficial microbes to help fend off plant diseases. Naturally occurring phytohormones promote fruiting and flowering. We’re crafting soil mixes using our compost and castings to create a living soil for Cannabis and other plants, where gardeners and farmers can easily grow organically, only needing to worry about watering and providing the right amount of light. Together, we can make a difference. Together we can go back to what nature intended – where everything moves in a circular (not linear) economy where “waste” in one system is an input in another. We need to remember that food scraps are an important part to maintaining the fertility in our soils. Food scraps are not “garbage” or “trash” or “waste.” We don’t need to rely on dangerous chemicals to grow our food. We don’t need to contribute to ticking time bombs for future generations. We can regenerate our Earth.
If you, or anyone you patronize, is interested in doing something better with their food “waste,” let us know! Because it isn’t waste until we waste it. (And we welcome you to try some of our kicka$$ compost as well!)