Saving Farmland: Madrona Farm — Worm Farming

Presentation: Saving Farmland: Madrona Farm

(For workshop on Worm Farming scroll down.)

Saving Farmland: The Fight for Real Food a book by Robyn Alys Roberts, Nathalie Chambers and Sophie Wooding.

Presentation by Robyn Alys Roberts.

Madrona Farm in the Blenkinsop valley has been in David Chambers’ family since 1952. With great effort, he and his wife Nathalie saved it from housing development and ensured it will be used for food production for years to come. The farm is 27 acres and located just south of Mount Douglas Park. To keep it as a working farm the Chambers sold it to the Land Conservancy of BC which will protect it in a trust in perpetuity. It will be leased to farmers who commit to using the land for food production.

A model called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) was used to preserve Madrona Farm.

This is a social economic model of agriculture and food distribution in which growers and consumers share the risks and benefits of food production. Shares in the current year’s crop are purchased early in the season and in return the shareholders receive a weekly supply of produce, thus providing economic support and predictability for farmers. Locally, Haliburton Farm and Little Mountain Farm also use this model.

Once their farm was saved, Nathalie turned her attention and energy to the issues of food security and saving farmland for sustainable agriculture. She received a full bursary courtesy of Story Clark, a land conservationist and Wyoming rancher to a National Trust conference offered at Yale University. There she met Rob Macklin from the UK National Trust and eventually went to the UK to further her knowledge of saving farmland and promoting food security through education, innovation and protest.

Education and awareness efforts have included attending Saanich Council meetings and show-and-tell sessions on vegetable production and reproduction. David Chambers used watermelon and zucchini plants to demonstrate that it takes both a male and female plants to reproduce these fruits. His point was that the more development and suburbanization that is allowed in the Blenkinsop Valley, the greater the threat to pollinators and to our food supply.

There is a global movement working toward sustainable agriculture. David Suzuki, Prince Charles and Vandana Shiva are three people supporting this work and much admired by Robyn. David Suzuki co-authored an article science-matters/2011/06/small-farms-may-be-better-for-food-security-and-biodiversity/) in which he talks about the energy efficiency possible with small farms using sustainable techniques. Studies show that these farms are produce at a greater rate than larger farms. Suzuki concludes that “alternative methods could produce enough food on a global basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base.”

Prince Charles speaks about the importance of sustainability emphasizing in a speech at Georgetown University in Washington, DC that small farms using agro ecology methods were the most productive and if these farms received the subsidies available to industrial farmers, then organic, sustainably grown food would become the affordable choice.

Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecologist, philosopher, feminist and seed activist/farmer who was born in India. After receiving an integrated Masters of Science honours degree in particle physics from the University of Punjab, she received her Master of Arts degree at the University of Guelph, in the philosophy of science and a PhD at the University of Western Ontario. Vandana Shiva has long been a vocal advocate for the critical importance of seed sovereignty and the interwoven nature of plant biodiversity. She warns about the negative effects of the global industrial food complex on ecosystems, small-scale farmers and traditional food systems.

Robyn concluded her presentation by highlighting the idea of “Developing a Commons” This is a publically shared space owned, protected and used by the community. In Portland, Oregon, architect Mark Lakeman formed an informal organization called City Repair:  to enable volunteers to create “commons” in public spaces. This Portland model is spreading across the United States, thanks to Lakeman’s frequent national talks and his dedication to designing beautiful and sustainable places that bring people together in community: . He notes that to understand the movement to save farmland the concept of ‘commons trust’ must be understood.

To help us understand this concept he compares a commons trust to a corporation and a government. A corporation’s raison d’etre is to make profits for its owners and shareholders and it has no legal personal liability. A government often has a short perspective and time frame and has allegiance to donors and special interests and is subject to pressures from corporate interests. It has no mandate to care for future generations. A Commons Trust, on the other hand, is an institution with a legal responsibility to future generation; its job is to foresee and prevent harm and its trustees are legally accountable to future generations. (”.

Robyn lists many resources in the endnotes of her book Saving Farmland, published by Rocky Mountain Books Ltd., 2015. You can purchase a copy from Robyn by emailing her at:


Workshop:  Worm Farming

David Greig: “From Heaven to Earthworm” – Vermicompost Workshop.

David is a registered horticulture therapist, a certified organic landscape professional and a worm farmer.

The vermicompost, or the “soil” that is a by-product of worms, is the richest microorganism product available. This should motivate you to become a Worm Farmer!

The glaciers wiped out the worms that used to be indigenous to this area, with the exception of 4 types that can be found in BC’s old growth forests, therefore all of the worms found in our gardens are species that have been introduced.

Red Wiggler (Eisenia fetida) also known as tiger worms were introduced from Europe hundreds of years ago and thrive in rotting vegetation, compost and manure. As with most introduced species, these European immigrants are causing damage to hardwood forests in Eastern Canada. Now Asian worms are moving in and it will take some time to understand their effects.

The Red Earthworm (Lumbricus rubellus) is the largest species of earthworm in North America, they have been found 3-4 feet long in Oregon and 10 feet long in Australia. Earthworms can be useful in helping you test the healthiness of your soil. If you count the worms within a cubed ft. of soil, 10 worms indicates healthy soil and the fewer the worms the more the soil is lacking.

Earth worms are a tube-shaped, segmented worm that has 5 hearts, no eyes, no teeth, a crop and a gizzard. They are hermaphrodites (monoecious) having a band like swelling called the clitellum toward the front of the animal that contains the sexual organs. To reproduce they overlap their clitellum and exchange sperm with each other. A cocoon forms around each worm after separating, and as the worms slip out of the cocoon the eggs are fertilized and deposited in the cocoon which closes up at the ends as the earthworms slip out.

Bin: To start your own worm farm you need some type of bin in which to house them. Bins can be made out of wood or any Rubbermaid-type bin, keeping in mind the relationship of size to weight. When filled with soil and moisture the bins are very heavy so locate it in its permanent site before filling. The bins need to drain and at the same time hold 50-60% moisture. If wood is chosen a good size is 4’ x 2’ x 1’. The Compost Education Centre sells worm bins. David insulates his outdoor bins with styrofoam to keep them warm.

Bedding material: is required for the worms to live in and eat. Popular materials are coconut fibre (coir), peat moss, or newspaper torn into strips. The inks in the Times Colonist are vegetable based so they are safe for worms.

Watering: Worms prefer the bins to be moist but not too wet.

Feeding: Any carbon material is good including leaves and fresh fruit and vegetable scraps as well as coffee grounds, bread, rice or pasta in moderation. Do not compost meat, fish, bones, or fresh manure in your worm bin. There is a product called Effective Microorganism you can add to the bedding using 1 part Effective Microorganism mixed with 1 part molasses and 1000 parts water to enhance the microbial action in your bin.

Earthworms have calcium in their bodies and use it to make their tunnels strong, creating pathways for water to get down into the soil. They pull in the soil with their proboscis (beak or nose) and grind it up in their gizzard. Adding greensand or silica to the bedding mix will aid in this grinding process.

Worms like neutral to alkaline soils. If your bin becomes too acidic or anaerobic (lacking oxygen), the worms will leave the bin or die. An offensive odour indicates anaerobic conditions, so stop adding food and add a small amount of dolomite lime or wood ash, and carefully stir the food scraps to aerate them. When the smell disappears, resume feeding.

Harvesting the Compost: When your compost is ready the next challenge is to separate out the worms from the compost. If you are not keen to stick your hands in the soil and remove the worms by hand there is an easier way. The worms dislike sunlight because they have photo receptors in their skin and you can use this knowledge to your advantage. Empty the bins out on a tarp in a large mound. The worms will scurry down into the soil to hide from the light. Scoop off the top soil just vacated by the worms and keep repeating this process waiting after each collection for the worms to descend and eventually the worms will all end up at the bottom on the tarp where they can be easily collected ready for the next bin.

The finished material makes a very rich compost. It is suitable for making compost teas by mixing with water and 1 oz of molasses. Let this mixture stand for 24 hours and use as a foliar spray. The compost is excellent when used in planting holes – Dahlias particularly like it.

Some problems people experience with worm bins include a proliferation of red spider mites, especially if the bin becomes acidic. Remedy this by adding large pieces of cantaloupe that will collect the mites and when the cantaloupe is removed so are the mites. Be sure to correct the acidity level to prevent a new infestation. Other issues for outdoor bins are rats, and fruit flies are problematic both indoors and out.

There is a myth that an earthworm cut in half will regenerate into two worms. If it has been severed behind the clitellum that portion will survive and sometimes a new anterior will grow but usually it just heals at the cut site. The anterior that has been cut off will die.

Resources on worm composting:

Worms Eat Our Garbage: Mary Applehoff.   Flower Press, 1992.

Teaming with Microbes, The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web: Wayne Lewis. Timber Press, revised edition 2010

The Earth Moved: Amy Stewart. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004.