The Worm Hotels Bringing People Together

by Anna de la Vega

If you thought Amsterdam was cool before, we might just be able to convince you it’s actually a whole lot cooler still.

Although famous for its coffee shops and red light district, what Amsterdam is lesser known for is its flourishing worm culture with over 300 community worm farms or ‘Worm Hotels’ dotted around the city. Amsterdam is also home to the only microbe museum in the world, Micropia: we all know microbes make the world go round, and there is no better place to see the little guys in action.

As part of The Urban Worms CPD we took a little trip to Micropia, and to check out the city’s neighbourhood ‘Worm Hotels’, where we had the gift of being given a fascinating guided tour of the architectural masterpieces by Arie Machgeels van Ziel, founder of the cooperative Wormenhotels. Architect by trade, Arie is taking architecture to new heights, not only shaping urban ecological design and resilient communities, but making the coolest worm farms you ever have seen.

From magnificent bee-hive structures made from compressed grass cuttings to converted giant cable reels, Worm Hotels come in diversity of shapes and sizes, and they are certainly a talking point.

Residents can apply to have a Worm Hotel in their neighbourhood, with a prerequisite of gaining five signatories from within the local community, although the current waiting list in Amsterdam is a hefty 2-3 years. Each Worm Hotel is assigned a ‘hotelier’, a local resident responsible for ensuring the worms have all their dietary needs met, and these rotate every year and receive payment for their duties. All of this is fully funded by local municipalities. We thought the Dutch were progressive but this is something else, and it gets better – Wormenhotels received a €100K government start up grant.

Although the positive ecological impact is undeniable, with each Worm Hotel transforming 2-4 tonnes of kitchen waste into worm poo every year, it is the role the worms play in growing strong communities that holds the real value, especially considering 20-30 families are sharing one Worm Hotel. Worms bring people together, and build new earth.

This trend is not unique to Amsterdam, the whole country is on board, with 2000 Worm Hotels spanning across 16 cities. The Netherlands are green – even going so far to offer financial incentives for residents to create urban gardens, paying up to €25 per 10ft2 of coverage. The Netherlands are key players in the global earthworm export business too with one company turning over €30 million a year, impressive for a small nation, and this is only one of 15-20 businesses.

Although the Dutch Government are evidently supportive of community worm farms, they are not so supportive of the country’s farmers, imposing draconian EU-mandated measures forcing thousands of farms to close in the name of reducing nitrogen fertiliser consumption by 70% by 2030. These absurd measures undermine national and global food security, and are destroying the heritage and livelihoods farmers, driving some to take their own lives. Not the actions of an honourable or progressive nation. It is a wonder why a government would enforce such measures rather than provide financial and educational support for farms to transition to organic agricultural practices. From a country with the only microbe museum in the world and a booming worm culture it seems very counterintuitive. Looks like we all need to up our worm game. Thank goodness for worms, and Worm Hotels.