GLIDE — The two-inch-long red wigglers munching on compost at a worm farm at the Glide Transfer Site aren’t much to look at.
But these little worms pack a powerful punch.
As they eat and poop their way through vegetative debris, the worms have no idea they are recycling waste and converting it into top-quality fertilizer. Nor are they aware that their work will benefit local veterans.
But if all goes well with this worm farm, their task will eventually be to help reduce the load at the Douglas County Landfill while generating income for Source One Serenity.
Source One Serenity, run by Rusty and Elena Lininger, provides nature-based experiences and land stewardship missions to improve the mental health of local veterans. The nonprofit is perhaps best known for teaching veterans how to fly fish.
The worms do their business inside a digester in the worm farm’s greenhouse.
Waste for the worms’ food goes in the top and the fertilizer they create filters down to the bottom, which is made of heavy gauge wire fencing. Scrapers run along the bottom to remove the finished fertilizer, dropping it to the ground where it is scooped up and collected.
These are local worms, explained Rusty Lininger at a tour of the facility Friday. Many of them were taken from mulch piles in Stewart Park, with the permission of the city of Roseburg’s agriculturalist.
“She lets me go in and kidnap her worms all the time and I just relocate them to complement our current population so our worms are from our natives,” he said.
The worms are considered livestock in the state of Oregon, and Rusty Lininger recalled visiting with a fellow rancher at a recent Partnership for the Umpqua Rivers Meeting, who said he had 60 or 70 head of livestock.
“I’m like, yeah, we’ve got about 4 or some million now, and he looked at me. I’m like worms, they’re worms,” he said.
Rusty Lininger, a veteran himself, said he was introduced to worm farming by a friend stationed with him in Germany.
“It’s like wow this is cool. I mean worms are kind of fun, especially when you start to learn what they do,” he said.
In Germany, he said, recycling was part of everyday life.
“Within your house you have organic matter goes here, paper goes here, tin and packaging goes here, and it’s just normal. It’s like putting on your shoes every day,” he said.
Moving from there to Oregon was a big change.
“Everybody was just tossing stuff away, and well, it’s not a long-term solution,” he said.
The Liningers started with a single tub of worms in their backyard in 2017.
“We started just learning and learning and so of course at the beginning we weren’t successful,” Elena Lininger said.
But they reached out for advice from experienced worm farmers and found, for example, that food had to be blended before being placed in the tub.
“So Rusty was just using a household blender and he was blending all those food scraps and then putting it to worms and we saw results immediately. It was just great,” she said.
She attended a grant writing workshop, and they started applying for and receiving grants that allowed them to buy equipment and expand.
And they reached out to Douglas County Public Works Director Scott Adams, who showed them the spot at the Glide Transfer Site that they now lease from the county.
In February this year, the worm farm really got going. The Liningers got the digester and the edible bedding in which the worms now live.
Last week, they were munching away at garden compost from Lane Forest Products.
In the future, they’ll take on vegetable food waste from restaurants.
The finished product, called worm castings, is currently sold in one and a half gallon bags and cubic foot bags at the Douglas County Farmers Co-op. The Liningers also hope to work with farmers who could replace conventional fertilizer with it.
They have already been working with Brosi’s Sugartree Farms on a demonstration trial.
Farming with worm castings helps soil retain water — an especially important aid during times of drought — and feeds the soil to increase yield.
Elena Lininger said they want to hire a veteran to work at the worm farm. This kind of work, focusing on a mission that’s part of a bigger picture, can be really helpful for veterans, she said.
It’s a good location for veterans to work, too, Elena Lininger said, because it’s quiet, a little bit hidden, but still close to Roseburg.
The project also needs specialized equipment to help with the composting that takes place before the worms are fed. That would enable them to take on meat waste.
The Douglas County government will also benefit if they are successful.
Food waste that goes into the county landfill now produces leachate and methane gas. It also takes up space, pushing the county closer to the date when it will have to close the landfill and look at expensive options like expansion or hauling waste to another county.
Douglas County Commissioner Tom Kress said the county recently worked with the Liningers on applying for grant funding.
“This is a fantastic endeavor. I wish them all the success,” Kress said.