Worm Power in Avon Expands 800 Percent
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You could say that an Avon business is among the largest employers in the world, and it will grow 800 percent before the end of the year.
Worm Power's millions of workers just do what comes naturally to produce their product.
“They're Darwin's favorite organisms,” said Tom Herlihy, president of Worm Power. “His first and last books were about earthworms.”
Eight million of them are working for Herlihy. Following his eight-fold expansion of Worm Power this year, he expects to employ many millions more worms.
What do they produce? They make vermicompost, an all organic super fertilizer. The Avon facility is the only place where it is being produced by this system, on this scale.
Worm Power is expanding right across the street from Coyne Dairy for a reason.
Cows are known for producing milk and another by-product which can be a steaming pile of problems for farmers. One cow produces 120 pounds of manure each day, so the 1,000 cows at Coyne Dairy can put out 120,000 pounds a day.
Coyne uses some of it and some winds up at Worm Power where it is turned into the worms’ pay: food.
The manure is mixed with compost. Microbes in the mixture generate heat and literally cook out bad bacteria at 142 degrees for 21 days. After breaking down a bit more, it goes to the worms.
They live in a controlled environment, with just the right moisture, temperature ventilation.
“If I want to have eight million worms I kinda gotta make sure everything is really running to keep them fat dumb and happy. All I really want them to do is eating making castings and making new worms," said Herlihy.
It’s the castings, or worm waste, that is the gold standard for fertilizer.
Tiger worms are different from the ones in your lawn. They are eating machines that metabolize and breed at a rapid rate. They live in the top several inches of soil in Worm Power's flats because that is where the food is.
”We feed from the top and harvest from the bottom," said Herlihy. "And these worms process their food fast."
“In the decomposition world, 70 days from the back end of a cow to a product you can seal up in a bag. That's, you know, unheard of,” Herlihy said.
Five years ago, demand was about 1,000 pounds a year. By Halloween this year, Worm Power will produce over two million pounds to meet an exploding demand.
“This year I was sold out of 2010's production by February 16. We were sales-committed for the year,” Herlihy added.
Worm Power appears to do more than feed plants. It may actually help them fight certain diseases. Four grants from the Cornell University Plant Pathology Department are funding that research at the Avon facility.
“It turns out our vermicompost is suppressive to a specific pathogen that’s detrimental in the green house industry. It’s a damping off disease and we’re showing that plants grown in the vermicompost have a very strong resistance to pythium,” Herlihy explained.
Herlihy believes this is just the beginning of Worm Power’s growth. Across the Finger Lakes Region, there are a lot of dairy farmers that might like this cooperative arrangement. And where there are cows, Worm Power can provide willing worm workers. Worm Power