What The Humble Earthworm Can Teach Us

by Anna de la Vega

Teaching our children the value of the earth, and thus the earthworm, could never be more vital. As we leave a generation to inherit a planet that we have ravished in the name of economic growth, we must instil in our children the understanding that nurture and care of the earth equates to nurture and care of self, and society.

Earthworms are the best teachers, and the integration of worm farms into education serves not only as a tool for curriculum enrichment, it connects our children to the cycle of life, where our food comes from, and more vitally the practicalities of worm husbandry. Educating children with the concept and skills to farm worms has the potential to build the foundations for communities to thrive, empowering resilience and a local food movement for the coming generations.

Learners at RISE get up close and personal with their organic waste managers

Rise Learning Zone CIC, a small therapeutic education provision for some of Nottingham City’s most disadvantaged learners are leading the way with worm farming, and schools would do well to walk in their footsteps.  All organic waste produced onsite is fed to 5000 composting worms housed in wheelie bin worm farms. From the success of the delivery of an introductory workshop funded by The Big Lottery Awards for All where learners built their own mini worm farms, Rise scaled up the operation with the learners taking the lead.  Learners are responsible for weighing the waste, feeding the worms and harvesting the worm manure at the end of the year to feed their food garden.  To date Rise have diverted over 100 kgs of kitchen waste into nutritious valuable fertiliser, closing the loop on waste and reducing the impact of climate change.

Rotting food waste is a significant contributor to climate change, emitting the green house gases methane and nitrous oxide, being 31 and 310 times stronger than carbon dioxide. Since establishing their worm farming programme Rise have taken to tackling food waste and climate change even further and are now members of FareShare, an organisation redistributing supermarket surplus that would otherwise be destined for landfill.

Worm farms contain a slide-window so learners can check the progress of composting activity in their bins.

A few months into the project, and plenty of ‘worm wee’ leachate is drained off for feeding the school’s plants.

The Urban Worm worked with Rise to ensure the success of the project by delivering practical educational sessions, providing curriculum enrichment for science, maths, history and geography. Learning about the life within the soil and the importance of its health to our sustenance is an invaluable lesson.  Rise are committed to nurturing compassionate and empowered learners with the understanding that nurture for nature underpins personal wellbeing and worth.  Developing their ecological education programme, Honey Bee Farmacy are working with Rise to establish bee hives and a pollination garden, including a giant bug house suitably named Buggingham Palace.

Schools are the powerhouses of society, and should strive to inspire and nurture responsible citizens with a respect for the natural world. On a practical level the potential for schools to manage their own organic waste onsite, with the involvement of learners presents exciting opportunities for the distribution of worm manure for the benefit of the community and for use in school gardens.  Considering the education sector produces 13% of all non-domestic food waste in England, discarding 123,000 tonnes per year, there is potential to produce a lot of worm manure.

The benefits of introducing worm farming into the curriculum are manifold, teaching our children the value of the earth and instilling in them the essential practical skills to rebuild the foundations for the production of food. The Urban Worm are passionate about education and how we can best support communities to become more resilient by making responsible choices with our organic waste: inspiring them at a young age is a good start.

School dinner will feature tomatoes grown in the school polytunnel, fed by home-made worm manure.



Contact Anna for more information on establishing worm farms at your institution, including practical workshops for staff and/or children.