06/28/10 — Just go farm worms ...

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Just go farm worms ...

By Laura Collins
Published in News on June 28, 2010 1:46 PM

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Troy Herring

Nick Cates, middle, transfers compost from a large container to a plastic box for worm collecting as reporter Laura Collins, left, and Wow Factory Worm Farm owner Tim Norris look on.

The Job: Worm farming

The Company: The WOW! Factory

The Location: Goldsboro

When I was 5 I had a pet worm named Bubba. I used to play with him in the yard or put him in my pocket -- perfectly normal stuff.

So when I found out I was going to The WOW! Factory worm farm, I called my dad and asked if he remembered Bubba. That's when my world came to a crashing halt.

"Laura, Bubba was a rubber worm," he said. I found this very hard to believe.

"No, I'm pretty sure he was real. I would put him in dirt and stuff when we played outside," I reminded him.

"Yeah, he was rubber. I used him for fishing a couple times."

"You used Bubba?!"

It was not a pretty mental image. And to think, for 20 years I believed my dad was not fishing with my pets.

So when the time came for me to work with owner Tim Norris I was excited about the opportunity, even though when he first emailed me about a worm farm I thought it was a joke. He used big words like "vermicomposting," which sounded made up, and talked about turning garbage into gold.

It was a "brisk" 96 degrees outside when I arrived at The WOW! Factory, which Norris says is called 'WOW' because it focuses on "the wonder of worms," and boy was he right.

The factory, which isn't a factory at all, mass produces worm castings outside in large vermicomposting tubs. He adds hundreds of worms to large tubs of food scraps and moist newspaper, which the worms eat their way through. After all of the compost has been turned into worm castings, Norris separates the worms from the castings, which is where my job came in. Then he told me everything he does at the farm is by hand, which gave me a little pause.

"Because I work with people with disabilities, everything is hands-on to improve their fine motor skills, gross motor skills and social skills," he said.

Lucky for me, Nick Cates, a student of Norris', was also there to help me out. Cates comes to the farm at least once a week to help and learn more about the process. When Norris dumped a heap of dirt and worms on the table in front of me, I think Cates noticed my wide eyes. There were literally about 100 squiring worms in the small mound of dirt in front of me. Norris said the first step is separating each worm from the dirt and counting it. From the looks of things, that could take years, and I wasn't as excited as I thought I'd be to be up close and personal with that many worms.

"I used to be afraid to pick them up, too," Cates reassured me. "But now I'm not afraid of them anymore."

See, I'm not scared to touch one worm, but sticking my hand wrist-deep into a pile a worms wasn't exactly the same thing, so Cates did the honors.

Next, we put the mixture minus the worms on screen filters. The filters separated out what's left of the original compost and the worm castings. The castings are then packaged as "Sooper Poop" and sold. The fertilizer is used in gardening and flower beds and the difference it can make is astonishing.

While the whole process is one of the most interesting things I've seen, what was even more interesting was watching Norris. It was evident that he appreciates the process, and teaching the science behind it more so than the business side of it. He has spent enough time with Cates, that in his absence, I'm pretty sure Cates could run the show. And it seems that Norris would rather teach people how to do the process for themselves, than to monopolize the unique fertilizer and make more profit. It was refreshing.

And as for me, I dedicated the day to my old pal, Bubba. Even if he was only rubber.

I don't think I will ask my dad about any of my other pets. I am not sure I can handle the truth.