[Ecoaction] There’s Money in… Compost!

One of the great myths of ‘going green’ is that there’s no money in it. We can’t possibly change our ways because it would wreck the economy, right?

Tell that to Cathy Nesbitt.

For more than 18 years now, she and her husband Rick have made a comfortable full-time living with… worms.

The pair sell items related to vermicomposting, a simple, all-natural way to get rid of food scraps. The process involves a well-ventilated bin, some dry bedding, and some healthy red wigglers. Once established and under ideal conditions,  approximately 2 lbs. of worms will recycle 1 lb. of organic matter in just 24 hours. The resulting ‘castings’ can be added to the lawn or garden, reducing the need for fertilizer dramatically. Converting food scraps can reduce household waste by as much as 40%.

Cathy says that she wasn’t keen on vermicomposting at first. “It was not a disaster, but…I found the worms icky at the time, and my house was full of fruit flies. I didn’t know you had to bury the organic waste.” After some research and some trial and error, she found the optimum method, and now converts waste so efficiently, that she and her husband don’t produce enough waste to feed as many worms as she’d like in their home setup.

Nesbitt’s business success has led to interviews with The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, and dozens of smaller outlets. There’s even a documentary called, appropriately enough, “Squirm”:

The Nesbitts have also won several awards, and have also branched out into sales of organic sprout growing containers and organic coffee.

It wasn’t easy, of course. Running a business can be hard work, and the early years often require sacrifice.

“How did we do it? We stuck to it. There were lots of times when the going was tough. I joke now and say that the worms ate better than us at the beginning.”

“I knew that the solution to the garbage crisis is actually several solutions. ” Cathy continued. “One of which is vermicomposting. I was quite naive. There is a lot of negative energy attached to the word worm. ‘Can of worms, tape worm, computer virus’ are called worms, etc.’ The roadblocks we encountered were fear of worms and lack of awareness.”

Until Toronto’s landfill filled up in 2002, food scraps were tossed in the garbage. Over 6 million people live in the GTHA, with about half living in condos or places without access to an organic collection program or space for outdoor composting, Cathy explained.

The Nesbitts had to be creative to find the right product mix. “With a composting business, there are different money-making opportunities. Sell worms, sell compost, consult, collect organic matter (from business or residential), workshops. If you just sell worms, new customers are required for each sale. Very few repeat customers (unlike a coffee company or other similar business). What would we do differently? We might focus on compost sales more than selling worms by the pound. Compost needs to be reapplied and not everyone wants to have worms in the house. “

Cathy’s best business advice? Think it through! “Write a business plan for any new business idea. Find out if there is a market. No point in creating something nobody wants.”

In addition to knowing what they do is a net benefit to society and the planet, the Nesbitts are living life on their terms as entrepreneurs. What green product or service could you turn into a full-time business?

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