Tribe Launches Innovative Vermicomposting Program

ADA, Okla. -- Chickasaw citizens are aware of the superb food served at Okchamali’s Café located inside the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center. Hundreds of people eat at the café daily, knowing the food served is healthy. Fruits, vegetables and a full-service salad bar are items served daily.

While most of the food is consumed by patrons, there are always leftovers that must be safely discarded. To reduce the burden on the local landfill and support the Chickasaw Nation’s stewardship core value, Okchamali’s Café will be the test site for a new composting program.

“Okchamali’s Café is good reliable source for composting materials,” environmental specialist Ambrie Johnson said. “They don’t cook with lots of salt and fat. The vegetables, fruit and other nutritious items will be collected and used to make great fertilizer. We plan on using this soil to grow vegetables at the community gardens.”

If successful, Johnson hopes Okchamali’s Café will be the first of many compost pickup sites within the Chickasaw Nation.

“This is a plan that will be built upon. We want to get to where the Chickasaw Nation is adding little to the waste stream,” Johnson said. “Every day we throw away thousands of pounds of renewable trash into landfills, much of which can be recycled or used in other creative ways, like composting.”

The process used to make the compost from the food collected at the Okchamali’s Café is as unique as the program itself. Instead of using the traditional composting methods, a special breed of earthworms are used to make compost faster and richer for soils.

“We are using a process of composting the material collected at the café called vermicomposting. Vermicomposting uses worms to speed up the process,” Johnson said. “It is more efficient and takes less time and energy to see the benefits than customary composting methods. We should start seeing usable materials within two to three months.”

According to Oklahoma State University Extension Office, the end product of vermicomposting is better for plants and soil than most commercial fertilizers. Vermicomposting reduces the cost of municipal solid waste collection and prolongs the life of landfills.

“There are a lot of benefits to vermicomposting,” Johnson said. “We will save money by taking less trash to the landfill, we won’t have to buy as much fertilizer for our gardens and we will have another teaching tool to show our citizens how to live a sustainable lifestyle.”

About Vermicomposting

Few things are more mysterious in the natural world then the intertwining and interaction of animals between one another. Among these creatures are the lowly, wiggly red and pink worms that tunnel beneath our feet that are barely given a thought.

More than bait for a Saturday afternoon fishing trip, these insatiable eaters provide much needed nutrients into the soil for plants to grow healthy and strong. They are Mother Nature’s garbage disposals, eating any organic material in their path and leaving soils rich with nutrients.

Vermicomposting is great for home gardens and flowerbeds. Containing nutrients that dissolve and slowly spread in water when added to soil, the compost is nutrient-rich and conditions the earth. Vermicomposting is 100 percent organic and eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers. With less than 2 pounds of worms, most kitchen trash can be turned into money-saving compost.

According to research done by the University of Nebraska, vermicomposting contains five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium than normal soil. Vermicomposting is rich in humic acids and improves soil structure.

Gardeners can buy vermicomposting kits for home use for less than $100, or they can be made from products purchased at the local hardware store. Vermicomposting bins come in different sizes and materials, but they all maintain proper living conditions for worms.

“We have a vermicomposting system that can handle about 50 pounds of vegetable matter a day,” Johnson said. “Home vermicomposting systems don’t need to be anywhere near that big. With a pound or two of worms and easy modifications to a plastic tote, a family can significantly reduce the amount of trash sent to the landfill and have great compost for their garden.”

Home composting has been studied by the Chickasaw Nation since 2007. Each year, the Chickasaw Nation Environmental Services hosts hands-on learning classes at Environmental Camp and at Senior Sites that includes composing demonstrations. The pilot program at Okchamali’s Café is a natural progression from what environmental technicians have learned from teaching composting for the home.

For more information, contact Cindy Gammons at 272-5456

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