By Amy Youngs
The Worm Share project encourages symbiotic relationships between humans and worms. Through experimental artworks, participatory designs, workshops and networking technologies, I facilitate the travel and propagation of composting worms into domestic spaces and encourage others to do the same. In exchange, the worm colonies provide valuable ecosystem services.
Eisenia Foetida is a species of worm suited to living in a wide variety of situations, including domestic spaces. These hearty creatures are able to efficiently turn our food and paper waste into plant fertilizer. Vermicomposting (worm composting) can happen in a very local way—in a kitchen, a basement, an office or in a bin embedded in furniture—and it can empower individuals to participate in the reduction of greenhouse gases. Landfills and organic wastes thrown in traditional composting bins decompose and emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide. On the contrary, the process of vermicomposting emits no harmful gas or unpleasant odors. The byproduct of worms is a nutrient-rich material that looks and smells like soil.
The project began with artworks that integrated live worms into sculptures and furniture within domestic spaces. In my sculpture Digestive Table, for instance, a flow-through worm bag was built into a functional table so humans could literally share a meal with worms. People observed the composting activity of the worms on an LCD screen built into the table surface and connected to an infrared camera that monitored the worms’ activity below. I posted the building plans for this sculpture online to help popularize vermicomposting by inspiring others, who might also have desired a useful and aesthetically pleasing worm home, to reproduce the table. I soon discovered that there was far more demand for a simpler, utilitarian version of the flow-through worm bag—one without the table or the camera technology. Once I posted my simplified worm bag designs online, a community of builders developed. People I’d never met began to construct their own bags, ask me questions, post suggestions and upload photos of their finished projects—many of which, based upon a builder’s needs or the materials available, diverged widely from the original. I was impressed with the improvements and evolution of the design that spontaneously occurred just within the comments section of the instructions webpage: http://www.instructables.com/id/Worm-bin-bag-for-indoor-vermicomposting-and-easy-s/. With more than 59,000 viewers and 160 public comments, this project has had more exposure than most of my gallery exhibitions.
Recently, Worm Share has taken on the form of workshops that encourage people to design their own creative worm bins to fit their lifestyles and the needs of the worms. Everything from custom kitchen cabinets to bike trailer bins have been imagined and some of the new designs are being field tested now. All of the workshop participants who are ready to build their bins, are encouraged to take home a pound of free starter worms, which come from my own worm colony. Worms are a never-ending, regenerative source, multiplying based on the amount of food and space available. Workshop participants also learn how they can double their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases by freely sharing their worms with friends and strangers. Worldwide worm sharing is possible through the online network, Vermicomposters.com, which encourages people to identify their general location on a map and willingness to share worms with others. Free and anonymous worm sharing regularly takes place in my town via porch drop-offs. In exchange, I encourage the people receiving starter worms to “pay it forward” and become a future worm-sharing node within this community of creative design and open-source sharing.
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World map of vermicomposters (red markers identify a person willing to share): http://vermicomposters.com/
Photos of Worm Share Workshop at Spaces Gallery in Cleveland, OH: http://hypernatural.com/wormshare.html
Digestive Table sculpture and worm bag construction plans:
Amy M. Youngs creates biological art, interactive sculptures and digital media works that explore the complex relationship between technology and our changing concept of nature and self. Obsessions include creating artificial nature experiences, spying on worms and constructing indoor, edible ecosystems. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she is an Associate Professor of Art and Technology at The Ohio State University. To learn more about her, please visit her website at http://hypernatural.com.
Photo Credits: Photo 05 is a compilation of photos that were posted to the comments page of Young’s “Instructable” for building a worm bin. Photo 08 from Spaces Gallery Staff.