UGArden, a community garden at the University of Georgia focused on creating a sustainable food system through teaching people about sustainable gardening practices, runs like a well-oiled machine. Volunteers and interns work year-round to help grow food, but these volunteers also receive help from some small, wiggling worms as well.

UGArden utilizes a vermicomposting system to transform waste into a nutrient-rich soil supplement. UGArden intern Victoria Luna’s Campus Sustainability Grant project is aimed at creating a bicycle-powered vermicomposting system to reduce compost sifting time from eight hours to only about 30 minutes.

The vermicompost system works like this:

  • Food scraps are placed in a vermibed, a 3x10 box full of bedding materials and worms.
  • The worms eat the food scraps and poop them out, creating nutrient-rich castings.
  • Volunteers sieve out the castings to use as a fertilizer and split the worms into two separate boxes, starting the process over again.

To create the new bicycle-powered system, Luna is using a donated bicycle from BikeAthens to create a large trommel to separate the dirt and worms from their castings. The bicycle-powered sifter will not only assist UGArden in their food growing efforts, but will also help fulfill the garden’s mission of education community members.

“We have so many kids that come out, like the Athens area middle schools, and they interact with the whole farm … so it’s going to be cool because they’re going to get on a bike and sift some compost,” Luna said. “That one thing of getting on a bike that they’ve done a million times is going to connect them to this whole other form of how they can deal with their waste.”

Improving the efficiency of UGArden’s composting methods directly impacts another goal of the garden, which is to grow and donate food to members of the community who are in need. In a service-learning approach, UGArden trains volunteers to be able to serve the community in a more informed, competent way.

“You’re getting food to people who are transitioning out of homelessness and giving to women that are in need and the elderly. You’re doing all this by educating yourself on sustainable practices,” Luna said.

Luna said in her view, sustainability is an all-inclusive viewpoint that takes into consideration the Earth, future generations and marginalized populations.

“Sustainability and a wholesome view are synonymous to me,” Luna said. “If you’re going to look at some system, you can’t just look at a part of it.”

A pile of worms might seem like a small part of the UGArden system, but these little animals play a huge role in the overarching mission of the garden to create a sustainable food system and address needs within the community.

Written by Jordan Meaker