Are Earthworms Intelligent?

Charles Darwin seemed to think so. In his last book published in 1881, he studied the habits and power of earthworms. Worms have no ears, but are sensitive to “vibrations conducted through the Earth.” This is another way of saying that worms can detect the footsteps of animals or humans. These detected sensations are then transmitted to collections of nerve cells in the worm’s head which Darwin calls “cerebral ganglia.” Although worms cannot hear, they can detect lightness and darkness. This is why during the day worms stay mostly underground where they are presumed to be safe from predators—predators they sense via vibrations which are transmitted to the cerebral ganglia.

 “When a worm is suddenly illuminated,” Darwin wrote, it “dashes like a rabbit into its burrow.” At first Darwin believe this to be a reflex. However, he observed that if the worms were engaged in other activities they would not withdraw into soil from sudden exposure to light. Darwin believes that this ability to perform different responses to the same stimuli indicates “the presence of a mind of some kind.” Darwin argues that if humans were faced with the same predicaments as worms—having a mouth, but lacking ears, limbs, and almost all sight—we would act in a similar manner. Does this make worms intelligent? Worms have survived for millions of years and enriched our soils despite their bodily circumstances. If these creatures do in fact possess a brain, they deserve thanks for all their hard work.

Education Over Regulation

Massachusetts dairy farms and other agricultural operations in the state were told last Friday (April 4th) that regulations would be imposed by the Department of Agricultural Resources “for manure, fertilizer, compost and other materials on 10 acres or more of agricultural and non-agricultural land.” These regulations require paperwork with detailed records of soil and manure tests as well as a “nutrient management plan” to be created and updated every three years. Farmers argue that they already have management plans and the paperwork is unnecessary and a waste of time. Springfield dairy farmer Tedd White claims “that narrowly restricting manure-spreading on his seven-plus generation farm to meet guidelines set by people in Boston who have never farmed will run us out of business, along with the state’s 149 other dairy farms.” Farmers routinely change plans based on weather and other variables. These regulations will restrict their flexibility—something farmers must have in order to produce the greatest crop. Farmers are urging Massachusetts’s Department of Agricultural Resources to work on an education plan for the use of manure, fertilizer, and compost instead of imposing regulations with financial penalties. Similarly, our construction of a vermicomposter to create nutrient-rich soil for the Davidson College Farm will serve as an educational tool for the community. Restricting the use of manure and compost seems counterproductive in a world that can’t afford anymore waste.

Food Waste Via School Systems

The nation’s second-largest school system, Los Angeles Unified, serves 650,000 meals a day. According to the district’s food services director David Binkle, $100,000 worth of food is wasted each day, amounting to $18 million a year of food waste. The wasted food, says Binkle, is due to federal school meal rules finalized in 2012 that require students to take three meal items, including one fruit or vegetable. However, most students don’t want these extra items and throw them in the garbage untouched. This rule, enacted to improve child nutrition, has created massive food waste in school cafeterias.

The extra produce costs school districts $5.4 million a day, with $3.8 million of that being tossed in the trash, according to national estimates based on a 2013 study of 15 Utah schools by researchers with Cornell University and Brigham Young University.”

Since federal rules ban schools from allowing people to take the uneaten food off campus and not enough nonprofits pick up extra food from the schools, the federal school meals rule has created a massive food waste problem. “Nationally, the cost of wasted food overall — including milk, meats and grains — is estimated at more than $1 billion annually.”

Lobbying efforts started to revise the child nutrition law, which is up for reauthorization next year. However, in the meantime, schools should engage in waste reduction techniques in classrooms to eliminate some of the wasted food. Since vermicomposting is an easy process—with little maintenance, costs, or smell—classrooms should create their own compost bins and do their part to reduce food waste. This blog provides step-by-step instructions to create a vermicomposter and will hopefully generate compost initiatives to reduce food waste.

Teresa Watanabe. “Solutions Sought to Reduce Food Waste at Schools.” Los     Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 01 Apr. 2014. Web. 06 Apr. 2014. < 20140402%2C0%2C373444.story#axzz2y9XQVD2H>.

Composting: Why Should We Bother?

Within American consumer culture, waste is an everyday reality. Despite this, waste elimination and management are rarely topics for concern for most Americans until they become problematic and visible. The health and environmental hazards from contemporary waste facilities such as incinerators or landfills are hard to ignore, and it is time for alternatives of waste control to be sought out and practiced.globeguycomposting

Composting is gaining popularity within the environmental and organic/local food social movements. It is not a means to eliminate all wastes, especially synthetic materials and chemicals, because of its organic nature. But the promotion of home or commercial composting is one step in creating an environmentally conscious and sustainable waste management system.

Through the advantageous process of composting, a stable, humus-like product is formed, which could be used as a high-quality fertilizer. Composting has many benefits including its reduction and/or elimination of the need for chemical fertilizers, its promotion of higher agricultural yields, and its diversion of organic wastes from industrial landfills.

The Vermicomposter Project!

Hello! Wondering what a vermicomposter even is? Read on.

For our Food and Sustainability Project our group, comprised of Mahlon Henderson ’14, Becca Garmon ’14, Christianne Repenning ’14, Cater Corley ’18, and Jack Albrittain ’18,  is working with the Davidson College Farm to create a vermicomposter. Vermicomposters work like general composting systems in that they can use waste foods such as vegetables, apple cores, coffee grinds, and even compostable cups and utensil, and break them down into a soil rich in nutrients. This allows waste products to be made useful and contribute to the sustainability of a garden or a farm. Vermicomposters take this process one step further and use a key ingredient in their composting: worms. Vermicomposters use worms to help break down foods and materials and expedite the process of soil production. Moreover, as these worms thrive off off the waste products, they reproduce and leave the vermicomposters with even more worms to work with.


Our group will be building a vermicomposter at the Davidson Farm site, using compostable waste from the Davidson eating houses and fraternities, and personal waste products. In doing this, we hope to support the sustainability of the Davidson food waste and also produce our own nutrient rich soil so that the Davidson Farm will not have to buy soil from other manufacturers. Once we complete the building of the vermicomposters, our group wishes to visit schools and organization within the Davidson community and teach people about the benefits of vermicomposting, as well as help them build their own vermicomposters.

During this project, we will be updating the blog with thoughts and news about vermicomposting, local farming, sustainability, and the economics behind small farms. Stay tuned to learn more and follow us throughout our work!