MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) selected a proposal from Middlebury College student Philip Aroneanu for a nationally-recognized Campus Ecology Fellowship. In the spring of 2003, working with Middlebury College Director of Dining Mathew Biette, Aroneanu and fellow student and greenhouse co-worker May Boeve established a small-scale vermicomposting system in the dining services greenhouse. Food waste from on-campus dining halls fed 10 pounds of red wiggler worms that arrived on campus on April 9, donated by the California-based Sonoma Worm Farm.

The resulting nutrient-rich worm castings was used to enhance the soil quality for growing greens in the College’s greenhouse and student-operated organic garden. The red wiggler is the most commonly used worm for composting and fishing. The species reproduces quickly and, augmented by a second supply from the Sonoma farm, the Middlebury worms were expected to create ample red wiggler populations for other vermiculture projects at the College and in surrounding community gardens.

According to Aroneanu-whose interest in vermiculture was sparked by vermicomposting expert Mary Appelhof’s seminal work “Worms Eat My Garbage”-people have understood the value of using worms for composting for thousands of years, and have used them successfully. “We need to rediscover and preserve all this knowledge because these methods are far more sustainable in the long run,” said Aroneanu. “I hope we can demonstrate the ease of worm composting to encourage conventional farms to use them more.”

Part of the $1,000 fellowship award was used to bring Appelhof to campus during the 2004 garden season to teach about the benefits of vermicomposting and how to create and manage a worm bin. Appelhof, who has been working with worms for more than 30 years, is also the producer of the educational video “Wormania!” and creator of the commercially sold worm bin called Worm-a-way*. Her presentation was coupled with a tour, with Aroneanu and Boeve, of the vermicomposting system at the greenhouse where people could see the effects of worm castings used as organic fertilizer for food. At the conclusion of Appelhof’s visit, Aroneanu divided the worms into smaller worm bins and gave them to students and community members who had attended the workshop on vermicomposting at the College’s organic garden. “I’m calling this the ‘Worm Adoption Program,’” said Aroneanu. “The idea is that these people will return a few worms to us in the spring, so we can have a seed population for next year’s big worm bin.” He will also experiment this winter by leaving some worms in the big bin at the garden throughout the cold months. “Mary Appelhof seems to think the worms will survive in a dormant state,” Aroneanu said.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Ecology Program awarded 17 fellowships this year in its competitive collegiate program. The awards make it possible for student fellows to undertake tangible projects that give them practical experience in the conservation field and first-hand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities inherent in successful conservation efforts. “Middlebury College is widely recognized for its leadership in areas involving the environment, including its sustainable campus programs,” said Director of Environmental Affairs Nan Jenks-Jay. “The regular, ongoing success of these programs is directly linked to the commitment and ingenuity of the College’s staff, faculty and students.”

Two other Middlebury students have received fellowships in recent years. Laura Dumond, class of 2001, researched and initiated a wetland restoration effort on Middlebury’s campus in 2000, and Ron Schildge, class of 2003, established a small-scale refinery for the production of biodiesel fuel, using the waste fryer grease from the dining halls as his source for making the fuel.