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Woman Works on 'Worm Time' E-mail
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Saturday, 19 August 2006
Reynolds Woman Works on 'Worm Time'


Macon Telegraph (Macon, GA)

By Ed Grisamore

On most Mondays, the clock on the wall means nothing to Sybil Willingham.

"I work on worm time," she said.

This is about as close to a dirty little secret as you'll find about Sybil.

After all, her father was a Methodist minister. Her mother was a schoolteacher. In college, she was an art major.

She is a well-respected civic leader in Taylor County. She serves on the board of voter registrars, is chairwoman of the historic preservation commission of planning and zoning, is president of the local historical-genealogical society and is an official with the Georgia Strawberry Festival.

So why does she spend her Mondays digging in earthworm containers when a lot of gals out there won't even bait a hook?

"I love the worms," she said. "You have to just slow down and let the worms work in 'worm time.' I told someone the other day that if I won the lottery, I would still do it, maybe even send them out for free. I would, at least, have to have some worms to play with on Mondays."

It's a business, although she wants to make it clear she doesn't need any more of it. She's got all she can handle at the moment. In fact, she may have to temporarily suspend operations because of a recent rise in shipping costs for "live animals."

Every Sunday morning, she drives to Cordele to meet a south Georgia worm supplier in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

For those who might be suspicious about the weekly exchange, it's a dug deal, not a drug deal.

On Mondays, she packs the worms in peat moss, drives to the post office in Butler and sends 80 to 100 pounds of worms to places like Kalamazoo, Mich., Tucson, Ariz., East Fishkill, Conn., and Oshkosh, Wis. She ships them to several nurseries and longtime customers.

She calls it her "therapy." She then has the rest of the week to work on whatever she wishes.

It all started 24 years ago when she and her ex-husband moved to Taylor County. They bought nine acres near Rupert, started out with a couple of rabbits and, you guessed it, they soon ended up building a barn and breeding them. They began supplying the rabbits to meat wholesalers, pet stores, furriers and university science departments and laboratories.

To handle the waste, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommended they either construct a concrete floor with drains to wash it into a lagoon or put in worm beds under the cages. They opted for the worms, and they soon had so many of the wiggly fellows they had another business. Sybil ran an advertisement in Field & Stream magazine and was swamped with orders.

"A lady named Mary Applehof got in touch with me about shipping worms to her," Sybil said. "She was a worm scientist who had written a book, 'Worms Eat My Garbage,' and developed a little bin that recycles kitchen garbage by raising worms."

Sybil began shipping worms to Applehof and to companies to use in their composting units.

"My business grew in a direction that I never could have anticipated," she said.

After she divorced and moved to Reynolds, she continued with the worm business.

"It's my alter ego," she said. "People are always asking me about my worms."

They're just fine, thank you.

On Mondays, she is never on the clock. She is working on worm time.

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