Meet Anna de la Vega from local social enterprise The Urban Worm. This Nottingham woman has been solving problems in waste management, and has found a way for the UK to salvage its depleting supply of topsoil... with worms.
Can you explain how composting works?
We need soil, and worms make soil. Worm manure is soil. There are three different categories of earthworm. For composting, you need a special one called a red worm. You can put just about anything in your bucket: veg, coffee, eggshells, even beard clippings. I’m able to manage all household waste within my flat. It doesn’t smell, it’s just soil. People can do it in their homes; they don’t need a lot of space. It’s like having a pet.
How did you get involved with worms?
My MA was in Human Security and Environmental Change. I didn’t realise how bad the food industry was until then. Before my MA, I worked in Nepal, using low-level technology to get people out of poverty. Worm farming is low-tech; we can control it without big, complicated machinery. It seemed like the most practical change to take direct action in Nottingham.
In 2016, I went to Cuba: the leaders in world farming. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, they lost 80% of their imports and exports. Because they got five times the market price for sugar, over a third of their land was used to grow it. When everything collapsed, they were starving. The government supported the people to transform car parks into urban, organic farms. If it weren’t for the worms, they’d have been screwed.
Do you think you’ve made people more environmentally aware through doing this?
It’s taken me a lot of time, I’ve been going for five years and only in the last year have people started to pay attention. It’s been really hard and I’ve had a lot of resistance from vegans; at first I wasn’t allowed to go to Green Festival because I keep my worms in captivity.
What power do the worms hold?
They can double their population in sixty days. It takes up to 1,000 years to produce topsoil naturally, but a worm can do it in just five. So, there is hope. This is the solution, it’s just that people don’t know about it. Farms aren’t integrating vermiculture into their system. We can start again. It’s very Margaret Atwood and apocalyptic, but this is the opportunity for us to turn it all around.
I’d like to see people giving their extra worm castings away to community gardens or growing projects. I’ve also started a service called Deliverpoo, delivering horse manure. One of our highest profile customers is Sat Bains. I’m trying to get him to get a worm farm; growing your own food with worm manure provides the highest nutritional content available. It’s just about education and showing people that you can do something on a small scale. I know we can all feel overwhelmed to make changes, but this is easy. Anyone can come and see how it’s done.
The Urban Worm, Kentrigg Farm, Adbolton Lane, West Bridgford, NG2 5AS. 07971 171 525