BOISE –Eighth Street in downtown Boise, it's as far away from farm country as it gets, and yet In the basement, there’s a farm. A worm farm.
“We’re just recycling food waste, these red wigglers, they are different worms than average earthworms,” said the farm manager.
The food waste comes from Bittercreek Alehouse, Diablo and Sons, and Red Feather Lounge, three restaurants owned by Dave Krick on 8th Street.
“It helps us recycle the vegetable produce and all this food waste that we have,” said Dave Krick.
The worms are housed in two bins that are each eight feet long, four feet wide, and two feet deep, are fed vegetable scraps and other produce waste, along with spent grains from the beer brewery. They eat the waste and turn it into worm castings.
“We’re just recycling food waste, you peel a carrot and cut off the ends, the same with romaine lettuce, eggshells when you’re peeling hundred and hundreds of eggs to put on sandwiches, and the list just goes on and on. Over the course of a week, we save all of that stuff, we just put in a tall giant trash can, a slim Jim. Once a week we process all that food. Once we process it, we come in here, mix it with all this paper and the worms go to town on it. They can go about 100 to 150 pounds a week,” said farm manager Nick Baltes.
Worm casting fertilizer is prized by gardeners and sold in the farmer's market, but the operation is not a money maker. Their goal is to be more ecologically responsible.
“We’re keeping as much food waste as possible out of the landfill, we let these guys process it and they keep it out of the landfill, where you know it sits emits methane gas and at least in the top three causes of methane gas said, ” said Baltes.
As much as 200 pounds a week of worm castings can be produced in the bins, which are kept in the basement below the three eateries, which are located on 8th Street in downtown Boise.
The bins were custom-made and each one is filled with thousands of red wigglers, which are a type of earthworm commonly used in composting. The worms’ only mission in life is to eat and they do that well, Baltes says.
“They’re just eaters,” he says. “They eat and eat and eat and excrete and excrete and excrete. That is literally all that they do.”
Several of the restaurants’ employees over the years have been responsible for maintaining the worm farm and one actually wrote a 70-page manual on how to run the operation.
While the worm castings are sold, the worm farm is not a money-making operation, Krick says. The main goal behind the worm farm is to be ecologically responsible by reducing the amount of food waste heading to the landfill.
“We have joked over the years that we don’t know why we’re doing this,” he says. “We do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
For the amount of work put into the worm farm and the amount of food waste that is saved from going to the landfill, the operation is probably not doing a huge world of good in the grand scheme of things, Krick says.
“But it’s just a good example of what we could do,” he says. “We feel really good about it, our staff feels really good about it, we know that we’re trying to do the right thing and so that keeps us going.”
Before COVID-19 hit, Krick said, the restaurants also hosted tours for local schools and used the worm composting operation as a tool to teach students about soil diversity and the importance of recycling food waste.
He said the restaurants also took the opportunity to feed the kids lunch while teaching them about where their food really comes from “and how we complete that cycle by returning the waste back to the farmer, or gardener.”