Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


City Farmer/City Of Vancouver
Wormshop Program

For information, call the Compost Hotline 604.736.2250.

In 1993, the City of Vancouver distributed two hundred vermicomposting bins to apartment residents as a pilot program through City Farmer, an urban agriculture group in British Columbia. Each partipant was required to attend a workshop, at the end of which they were provided with a blue-box sized, plastic worm bin, bedding, a half pound of red wigglers and an instruction book.

Participants in the Vermicomposting Program were surveyed in the spring of 1994 as a follow-up to the program. The potential for waste reduction through this process is large, somewhere between 15 and 40 per cent, depending on the size of the household. Respondents were delighted with the program and the positive feedback resulted in a continuation of the program two years later.

The program now consists of a mandatory one hour "wormshop", a worm bin, bedding materials, half a pound of worms, a trowel, Worms Eat My Garbage book (by Mary Appelhof) and other literature - all for the incredible subsidized rate of $25 Canadian!. The kit is sold to the city for just under $60; the retail price would be around $75 not including the workshop. With the workshop, the consumer is getting about a $100 value for $25.

Up to 25 registrants huddle into the worm corner at the Vancouver Compost Demonstration Garden and dig in to a very hands on experience. The wormshop is essentially the same as the children's workshops presented to schools. Clustered around four worm bin stations, participants rip up newspaper, mix in leaves and a couple handfuls of soil, pour on the water - mix, mix, mix. In between they are fed bits of scientific data on worms and their care, harvesting, etc. and a lot of bad jokes - but the focus is on actually assembling the bin. One person from each group takes home the assembled bin, the rest are encouraged to make up their bins in the next couple days as the worms won't last long in their small container. Even the news that the gorgeous "black gold" presented on a silver tray and adorned with flowers is actually "worm poo" is greeted with smiles.

Spirit Of Community

Wearing a black t-shirt with Black Gold and the Power of One written in gold lettering, the instructor hints at the underlying philosophy of City Farmer during the workshop. "In this day and age it's easy to get overwhelmed and ask what can one person do? But at City Farmer we like to think that if everyone looked after his/her own back yard, the world would be a very different place. By this one small act, you will have an immediate effect on your own household (cutting down garbage by a third), and it will ripple forth first with your neighbours, then out into the community. The worm is a wonderful symbol of the power of one, eating its own body weight in food everyday.

The City Farmer Wormshops have become family events - grandmothers work alongside young people, fathers bring their sons, neighbours dig in elbow to elbow - a real sense of community develops over the hour as people roll up their shirt sleeves, and get to know one another.

The Bin

The current worm bin was specially designed in consultation with our supplier after the pilot program. It is a black, 100% recycled (80% post consumer waste) plastic bin, with a 48 litre capacity and measuring 14"D x 19"L x 16" W with vented air holes around the sides. Previously, the vents were on the lid until we got reports from distraught people who had drowned their worms with all the rain we get out here. There are a few drainage holes in the bottom of the bin as well (not vented). Stubby little plastic "legs" were put onto the base in order to elevate the bin to allow for leachate run off. A second lid acts as a drip tray.

The Bedding

When we first ran the pilot program for the City of Vancouver, they requested that we use peat moss as the bedding material. They wanted a sterile medium so that people wouldn't get turned off by all the creepy crawlies in the bin. We weren't enthusiastic about using a non-renewable resource, so for the subsequent program, we had a peat moss substitute developed by a local industrial composting facility, called Envirowaste. They combined composted bark mulch and paper sludge and came up with a very good medium for worm farming; they called it Protopot. Our supplier then adds shredded paper in about a 50/50 mix and packages the bedding in a plastic garbage bag. This mixture retails for about $5 a bag for subsequent "bedding changes".

We still add leaves and a bit of stripped up newspaper to demonstrate the idea that you can use materials nearby for the bedding and don't have to go out and buy anything.

Other Goodies

Participants also receive a funky plastic trowel to dig around in their new "worm condo", although we don't encourage too much of this - it's better not to disturb the worms. Also, Mary Appelhof's Worms Eat My Garbage is tucked inside the bin along with some additional literature on bin maintenance and harvesting.

The Worms

Half a pound of writhing red wiggler worms are included in each worm "kit". The bin will accommodate up to 1500, so participants are encouraged to either make up a second bin for themselves or a friend (they make excellent wedding gifts, shower gifts and Christmas presents!) or give them to a friend with a backyard compost bin. If they can't find good homes for the extras, we remind them that City Farmer is an official worm adoption agency!

While the overall response to the program has been very positive, the continued participation rate of residents is somewhat lower than with the backyard compost bin distribution program also offered by the city (Earth Machine bins are available year 'round for $25). Since 1992, 180 adult wormshops and composting sessions or tours have been held at the garden for a total of 3382 contacts (apart from garden visitors). The program is continuing and to date, we have sold about 1500 worm bins. And that is mostly through word of mouth; very little advertising has been done due to a tight budget. However, when ads or press releases are picked up by local media, calls on the compost hotline triple and even quadruple with callers clamoring for wormbins. With about 125,000 apartment suites in Vancouver, there is still a large potential for the program.

School Wormshop Program

In addition to our City program above, City Farmer style "wormshops" are also offered to schools by certified wormshop instructors either at the garden or in the classroom. Each wormshop is an hour long and very hands on, which means the kids can get a bit wild and have a lot of fun. The 36 litre size Rubbermaid bins are ideal for classrooms because they fit neatly on a shelf or under a table and contents decompose quite quickly.

While setting up the worm bin for their classroom, the group learns about composting, waste reduction and the science of worms. Many teachers build a whole unit around the wormshop and a field trip to the garden, with follow-up activities and on-going worm bin monitoring. A garden wormshop includes a five senses tour of the garden.

The cost to Vancouver teachers is just $25 for the bin, worms and bedding materials; the instructor's fee is subsidized by the City of Vancouver. There is also an hour long follow-up called a Harvest Shop where the kids separate the worms from their castings, rebuild the bin and then plant a seed in the finished compost. The Harvest Shop is $20.

Worm Suppliers

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Revised August 10, 2008

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture