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Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Worms Work for a Better Earth

 
November 15, 2006

The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY)

By Delen Goldberg

Worms work For a Better Earth

Woman’s Composting Business in East Syracuse helps Reduce Waste Stream.

Brenda Lotito loves worms.

After all, creepy crawlers have helped her bond with her family, teach people about the environment and start her own business. Lotito, a married mother of four, owns Upstate Worm Farms, a worm-composting business that started in her family's basement eight years ago and has grown rapidly since.

Upstate Worm Farms now occupies a shop in East Syracuse. Lotito recently won a SOHO Award for starting a unique small business, and she continues to spread the message of composting by teaching in local schools, churches and libraries.

"Anyone who deals with food can do this," said Lotito, 40, of Liverpool. "It decreases their output of waste into an already burdened waste stream and gives them compost they can use in their gardens."

Lotito says the benefits of worm composting are vast: Composters produce less trash, keep municipal costs down by using fewer services and no longer need to buy mulch or lawn-conditioning products. Worm compost makes plants healthier, holds water to keep utility bills low and helps repel pests that don't like the bitter taste the compost leaves in leaves, Lotito said.

Compost boxes rarely smell or attract bugs, Lotito said, and an initial investment of a pound of red wigglers can last years. The worms multiply on their own. Worms found outside shouldn't be used for composting, Lotito said.

"We're getting good with yard waste, but food waste is still a problem," Lotito said. "Vermicomposting is something we can do right now to lessen our footprint. It's simple."

Americans throw away about 96 billion pounds of food waste each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Food items are the single-largest component of the waste stream by weight in the United States, and residents spend about $1 billion annually to dispose of scraps and leftovers.

Lotito says worms can shrink those numbers. One pound of worms eats about a half-pound of waste a day.

"Syracuse and Central New York can be on the cutting edge of this," Lotito said.

Local schools are beginning to get involved. Lotito has brought her red wigglers into classrooms at Grant Middle School and Huntington School.

Worms give pupils a hands-on science lesson, Lotito said. They also teach children about responsibility and caring for living things - even the smallest creatures.

Alyssa Bresnahan, 11, and her mother, Lisa Bresnahan, of DeWitt, are two of Lotito's newest customers. They picked up a worm-composting kit last week.

"It's very easy," Lisa Bresnahan said of vermicomposting. "You basically just take your garbage and instead of letting it sit in your can, you feed it to the worms. They take care of everything."

Lotito said her fascination with worms began when her son John, now 11, was 3 years old and asked for worms as pets. Lotito began to research the creatures and soon learned about their composting powers.

Now, Lotito's husband, Jim, builds her compost boxes, while she and their children - Nicholas, 13; John; Anthony, 9; and Jimmy, 7 - care for the worms and harvest the compost.

"This is a lifestyle change, much like picking up organic foods," Lotito said. "At first, it did take a lot of thinking, but now it has just become natural."

Worm compost

Red wigglers eat food scraps, which become compost after passing through the worms' bodies. Compost can be used to help plants, grass and flowers grow. Here's how worm composting works:

Build or buy a plastic, wood or glass compost box.

Add moist newspaper shreddings and red wiggler worms.

Put food scraps and leftovers, such as fruits, vegetables, eggshells, coffee grinds and unsweetened cereal, in the box for the worms to eat.

After three to five months, harvest the compost.

 
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