Local compost company champions sustainability and taps into the cannabis growing industry

Since 2017, Wormies has been producing organic, high-quality vermicompost, or compost made with worms, for farming and gardening, but as regulations on cannabis growing have eased, the local company has largely been selling its product to a new market. 

Luis Chen launched the company after a 12-year career in accounting, ultimately finding his passion in composting, which he began doing for his family and neighbors. Through SpringGR, he was able to turn his new passion into a business that is valuable for the environment, plants and ultimately, humans. 

“Compost is just millions of microorganisms eating the food scraps and pooping them out,” says Chen. “So, it's just thousands of poops being made by all these organisms and that's what we call compost.”

The organisms he is referring to are worms. These worms feed on food scraps and create worm castings, producing nutrient-rich organic compost that is full of millions of microorganisms beneficial to healthy soil and plant growth.

Worms are also known for cleaning the soil of heavy metals, according to Chen. 

It was this high-quality compost that got cannabis growers reaching out to Wormies for product, which Chen says helped consolidate Wormies’ business model. While the pandemic slowed some of the company’s projected growth, Wormies is supplying hundreds of customers with its top-notch vermicompost, about 80% of which are cannabis growers, according to Chen. 

Wormies began with a food scrap pickup service, in which a household would be given a bucket for food scraps, Chen would pick up the scraps and feed it to the worms, then supply the household with fresh vermicompost. At the time, Chen says that Urban Roots was the only other compost pickup service for residential food scraps. 

This, however, wasn’t a very sustainable business model, according to Chen, even once they began selling their compost at markets. But, once the cannabis growing industry began expanding and Chen began receiving phone calls from growers looking for quality, nutrient-rich compost, he knew Wormies was in a good place. 

“What better kind of potting soil than the one you can get locally because the closer to your environment, the fresher the soil, the fresher the compost, the better quality and performance you are going to find,” says Chen.  

“So, any compost that is made locally, it's going to be higher performance if you're going to grow locally. So that's [what] craft cannabis growers are understanding and they are like, ‘Oh, yes, we want that.’ You know, they understand.” 

In addition to compost which growers mix with soil, Wormies also offers a potting soil that is pre-mixed, composting worms and kits, along with a microbial tea, which is a concentrated organic fertilizer made from worm castings. They currently have about 300 customers as part of their compost pickup service and those who don’t wish to receive vermicompost in return can choose to donate it to the community gardens Wormies partners with, such as at the Cook Library Center, Other Way, Dwelling Place and YMCA Mary Free Bed. 

While composting may seem new, it’s not — in fact, it occurs naturally. 

“[Compost] can be an art and a science, making sure you have the right mix of things, but it's not like we've come out with this new chemical thing that will help your plants grow,” says Benjamin Oliver, head of business development and strategy for Wormies. “It’s nature’s innovation.”

The decomposition happening to food scraps in the landfill, however, is not so natural or healthy, and it’s what got Chen passionate about composting. When food scraps go into the landfill, they’re mixed with plastics and metals, becoming toxic instead of being transformed into valuable compost. 

Wormies is currently in the Fluresh Five Accelerator mentorship program, which is a business incubator working to diversify the cannabis industry. Chen says that Wormies is focusing on creating an operation to compost cannabis waste. 

“A plant drops its leaves and then it feeds the soil, its roots,” says Oliver. “Right now, if you're a cannabis grower at a facility, your waste has to be completely destroyed and unrecognizable, and only good for the landfill. So, we're trying to explore how we can be a part of that and help these facilities compost their waste.” 

“Not all compost are the same. If you make a compost out of bananas, you get a compost that's gonna be good for bananas. If you make a compost out of cannabis, it's gonna be good for cannabis,” says Chen. 

“I think this resurgence or renaissance and growing through cannabis and craft cannabis is going to also help extend or bridge into the home gardeners,” says Oliver, who thinks that people will begin to see that what they put in their garden beds has an impact on the health and strength of their produce. 

“If we have the soil being super rich and the microbiology just full of life, then those plants are going to be best positioned to manifest their best selves,” says Oliver.

Photos courtesy of Wormies
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